Florida’s attorney general objects to death row inmate’s DNA testing

Tommy Zeigler’s lawyers had received support from a local prosecutor. A judge must still decide.
Tommy Zeigler photographed on Florida's death row in 2018.
Tommy Zeigler photographed on Florida's death row in 2018.
Published June 1, 2021|Updated June 2, 2021

Florida’s attorney general stepped into death row inmate Tommy Zeigler’s request for DNA testing Tuesday, arguing it should not be allowed.

Assistant Attorney General Patrick Bobek filed a notice in Zeigler’s case that the request does not comply with Florida law, which says the testing should only be approved when it would outright exonerate an inmate. Zeigler’s lawyers argue that it would.

The court filing comes less than two weeks after Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Monique Worrell agreed to support Zeigler’s request for testing.

Zeigler, 75, has been on death row for 45 years for the Christmas Eve 1975 murders of his wife, in-laws and another man at his family’s Winter Garden furniture store. The DNA testing would be paid for by his attorneys.

“It’s clearly an attempt to derail this effort,” said Terry Hadley in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “It’s an attempt to interfere with what the parties have agreed to.”

Hadley was Zeigler’s trial attorney.

Bobek referred questions to the Office of Attorney General Ashley Moody in Tallahassee.

Kylie Mason, a spokesperson there, wrote in an email that the attorney general serves as co-counsel in the case and should have been notified.

She said the agreement between Zeigler’s lawyers and Worrell’s office fails to comply with Florida’s Rules of Criminal Procedure. She also said the evidence should only be handled by a state lab.

“It is imperative that any DNA testing of the evidence preserves its integrity,” she wrote.

Worrell’s office declined to comment on the state’s move.

Related: Read the Tampa Bay Times series about Zeigler's case

A judge must approve the agreement before the evidence in Zeigler’s case is released for testing. That is typically routine when the parties agree, but it’s unclear what effect the attorney general’s stance will have.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the attorney general had not filed a notice in the case of Henry Sireci, another man on death row who has sought DNA testing for two decades. Worrell agreed to his testing, too, and Circuit Judge Wayne C. Wooten signed off on it May 7.

Hadley was beside himself over the state’s move in Zeigler’s case.

“It absolutely nauseates me that anyone would go to these kinds of gross lengths,” he said, “to prevent this man from doing his DNA testing.”