Tommy Zeigler, 75, survives the coronavirus on death row

Inmate says he spent almost two weeks on oxygen struggling to breathe.
Tommy Zeigler has been on death row since 1976. CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times
Tommy Zeigler has been on death row since 1976. CHERIE DIEZ | Times
Published Sept. 16, 2020|Updated Sept. 28, 2020

Tommy Zeigler said he returned to his cell on death row this week after battling COVID-19.

The 75-year-old Zeigler, who has been in prison for 44 years, was last seen by other inmates leaving his cell with guards Aug. 29. He had been struggling with shortness of breath for days when his condition suddenly became dire.

“I felt like I was drowning and had to gasp for breath!” Zeigler wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times from death row, which is at Union Correctional Institution in northwest Florida, near Starke.

He praised two prison nurses who quickly got him help on a weekend. He said he might not be alive if not for them.

Zeigler said he was taken from the prison infirmary to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where he tested positive for COVID-19. He returned to the infirmary the following day and had been getting help for his breathing until recently. His oxygen levels have improved, and he’s trying to regain his strength.

“It has been a very hard two weeks, but hopefully, there are blue skies ahead,” Zeigler wrote.

Zeigler was convicted of killing his wife, in-laws and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Christmas Eve 1975. He has always said he was the victim of a robbery and has sought advanced DNA testing of the evidence for two decades.

Connie Crawford, Zeigler’s last remaining relative, could not get any information about his condition because Zeigler did not have the required consent forms on file. None of his lawyers could find out his condition, either.

But when Zeigler got back to his cell, he began writing emails again on his tablet. Last week, 11 of 12 people tested on Zeigler’s floor were positive for COVID-19, according to another inmate.