Saturday, September 24, 2011

Is Florida's 'Troy Davis' An Old White Dude?

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget
what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

- Maya Angelou

When Dr. Amy Goodman's phone died, she stopped trying to look at the time. Others had huddled around Ben Jealous from the NAACP and began to pray. The execution of Troy Davis in Jackson, GA had been mysteriously delayed by the Supreme Court for hours but ultimately, it happened.

People in every major city took to the streets. The mainstream media soon realized that they were losing viewership with every moment that they were not discussing the possibility that an innocent man was being murdered by his state. Time stood still for just a moment at 11:08 and then resumed again. Part of what we know as "America" died with Troy Anthony Davis... the presumption of our innocence.

Although there were undeniable racial components to the controversy that finally simmered to a boil on September 21st, it was not what any of us would call "racially charged". White people were also deeply concerned - even if they suspected, as the Supreme Court must have, that Troy Davis was guilty. No matter what our race, gender, age or other qualifiers, we all have an uncomfortable suspicion of persecution. It's part of the American DNA... We translate these messages from our government with bits of code that we gathered from the Salem Witch Trials, the Southern Strategy, the McCarthy Era, the Anita Bryant Crusade and the Satanic Panic.

Some of us are more keenly attuned to persecution than others. William Thomas "Tommy" Zeigler is just such a person. He has been sitting on Death Row for 35 years for a crimes that largely stink of being a set-up.

Back in the early 70's, Ziegler owned a furniture store in Winter Gardens just outside of Orlando. He had become friends with the local police cheif and was taking it upon himself to root out corruption in the area caused by the Ku Klux Klan who had begun pulling some kind of sharecropping scam on the mostly black citrus pickers.

On Christmas Eve, he intended to give his wife's parents a reclining chair as a gift. He went to his store to either meet them there or gather the chair and was unable to turn on any lights. Upon entrance, he was beaten unconscious and shot in the abdomen by unseen attackers.

When Zeigler regained consciousness, he phoned his friend (the Police Cheif) and informed him that he had been attacked and needed help. What Zeigler did not know is that his wife, his wife's parents, and an African American customer were all scattered on the floor of the store and riddled with bullets. They had been that way even before he entered.

What followed was the most convoluted and utterly ridiculous cooked up case against a man that you could ever imagine. Investigators decided that Zeigler had massacred his own family on Christmas Eve just moments before he was scheduled to go to dinner with the police cheif and a judge and then shot himself in the abdomen to make it look like a robbery.

The case against Zeigler was sketchy at best. Then, evidence began turning up from strange sources and new motives were "discovered" by investigators with a little help from the FBI. Suddenly, there were two eye-witnesses who just happened to see everything except the actual shooting.

When it came time for a trial, Zeigler was surprised to find out that the judge just happened to be his nemesis from his earlier activism against loan-sharking, sharecropping, or otherwise taking advantage of the migrant workers. A young police officer witnessed that judge and the prosecutor hanging out with each other and discussing the case.

By the end of Zeigler's trial, 72 people testified against him and the jury was utterly confused by the fantastic series of events that the State's Attorney expected them to believe. Both Zeigler and his attorney attested that they felt they were being railroaded. One juror was not convinced of Zeigler's guilt and raised questions during deliberation. She was threatened and intimidated by the jury foreman and this made her even more resolute. She attempted to contact the judge to inform him of how she was being treated and the judge ordered that she be given heavy doses of valium. Once they had her all drugged up, she was compliant with a guilty verdict but still insisted on recommending only a life sentence and not death.
When the verdict was handed down, the judge overruled the jury's sentencing reccommendation and gave Zeigler the death sentence.

Now - this sounds a little crazy, right? Well, the State of Florida's story was even crazier. But what really arouses suspicion is who all these players went on to become during the 35 years that Zeigler has occupied death row.

The blood-spatter analyst who gave a half-cocked testimony which falsely identified the blood on Zeigler's shirt (DNA Evidence later contradicted him) went on to become the nation's leading criminologist of this nature and even worked the OJ Simpson trial and appeared on numerous television shows.

In 2008, when a citizen advocate wrote to Herbert L. MacDonell (the blood-spatter analyst), to question him about the DNA discrepancies, the analyst responded with a brand new, never before heard theory of how all the blood got where it did... by accusing Zeigler of being bisexual and having sex with the body of the customer who was found in the store. That response, aside from its complete randomness and audacity, seemed to be a hostile response to being questioned about the case.

The State's Attorney, Robert J. Eagan was moving up in the world until a 1985 corruption sting fell upon him that involved allegations of bribery on his part. A judge was involved as well as a number of Eagan's informants and the allegations stemmed all the way back to a drug arrest in the late 70's, just after Zeigler's trial. At one point Eagan was quoted in the St. Petersburg Times as admitting that "one of his informants", whom he declined to name, may have accepted bribes without authorization from himself.

One needs only to look at the courtroom transcripts from Zeigler's trial to understand that Eagan is a master of manipulation and will do anything to whip a jury into a senseless frenzy... As long as there's a "guilty" verdict, he's not concerned with the aftermath.

The Judge, Maurice Mitchell Paul, was later promoted by President Ronald Reagan to US Federal District Judge and he still hears cases in North Florida today. Specifically, he decides whether to advance cases against the government for maltreatment of prisoners in Florida's corrections facilities. The Zeigler case is not the only one that Justice Paul is infamous for. In 1995, he intervened in a case that juveniles had against the Florida Corrections System and ruled in favor of the Dozier Training School for Boys. This will ring a bell for anybody who is familiar with Florida's most grotesque tale of child abuse - The White House Boys.