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Carlton: Two years after a murder, only a sliver of justice for Bill

Jadian Sinead Zeiders is charged with second degree murder in the Jan. 14 beating death of 53-year-old William J. Denham, Jr. According to a police report, Zeiders told investigators that Denham walked into the back yard of a home on Escort Avenue and started masturbating in front of her. As of Tuesday, no one else has been charged in the case.
Jadian Sinead Zeiders is charged with second degree murder in the Jan. 14 beating death of 53-year-old William J. Denham, Jr. According to a police report, Zeiders told investigators that Denham walked into the back yard of a home on Escort Avenue and started masturbating in front of her. As of Tuesday, no one else has been charged in the case.
Published Nov. 30, 2018

January will mark two years since William Denham Jr. didn't make it home.

Two years since the man friends called Bill — 53, smallish, a social worker who had run methadone programs and who was openly gay — walked to the nearby Walmart to pick up a couple of frozen dinners. Two years since he didn't show up at the Seminole Heights home he recently bought with Dan Kane, his partner of more than three decades.

Nearly two years, and nothing like justice. The system is rarely a tidy episode of Law and Order: crime and investigation, trial and punishment. Sometimes it's a rusty, ugly grind, implacable, illogical and unfair.

Someone saw a man lying on the sidewalk near N 15th and Elm, badly beaten. Blunt trauma to his face and body, the medical examiner said. A homicide.

Kane believes it must have started with someone trying to get money, though Denham likely had less than twenty dollars that night. And he had probably never been in a fight in his life, Kane said.

A witness told police he saw a woman and two men beating the man, and when he fell, all three of them kicking him.

An anonymous tip led police to Jadian Zeiders. She said she knew nothing. Then she said a man walked into her yard and masturbated — a story people who knew Denham called absurd. Zeiders said she told two men she knew about it. They drove around. Ultimately they spotted Denham. There was a confrontation.

But she told police it was an unknown black man who jumped out of the bushes to kick and rob him.

Both of the men that Zeiders said were with her are identified by name in police reports. Five people interviewed in those reports say Zeiders or one of the men — or some combination of them — all talked about beating a man. One witness picked one of the men out of a photo line-up. She said he was "bragging" and "claimed to have beaten someone to death."

Zeiders, now 28, is charged with second-degree murder, her trial scheduled for January. But neither of the two men named in police reports have been charged.

Another truth: Sometimes witnesses are deemed unreliable. Sometimes bad guys get lucky.

Frustration is a mild term for what you hear in Kane's voice.

He says prosecutors tell him they don't bring charges based solely on a co-defendant's testimony. He says one of them told him that unfortunately, people sometimes get away with murder.

For obvious reasons, police do not speak expansively about ongoing cases. "It's still an open investigation," said Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty. "And there are still other suspects."

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said this in an email this week: "We sympathize with the friends and loved ones of William Denham. We will continue to work with law enforcement as they investigate those suspected of this heinous crime."

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A mental health counselor, Kane is not unfamiliar with the complications of the court system. He has spent time in courtrooms asking judges for mercy for people with drug problems.

But a man was beaten to death. And "they know who did it," he says.

Nearly two years later, it is a hard thing to take.

"Justice," he says. "It really is about justice at this point" — whatever that might turn out to be.

Contact Sue Carlton at scarlton@tampabay.com.