LEE COUNTY, Fla. – Joseph Zieler was convicted last week in the 1990 cold-case murders of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and 32-year-old Lisa Story. Following his conviction a Florida jury recommended death for the condemned two-time killer.
On May 10, 1990, Jan Cornell, Robin’s mother, found her 11-year-old daughter and roommate (Lisa Story) dead at their residence in Cape Coral, Florida. During the subsequent investigation, police found that the woman and young girl were beaten and sexually assaulted, and that several items were stolen from the home.
The double homicide went unsolved for 26 years until Zieler was arrested on unrelated battery charges and DNA evidence subsequently led detectives to connect him with the 1990 murders.
After repeated delays over several years, the long-awaited trial began early last week. Prosecutors presented DNA evidence and Zieler was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder.
Moreover, evidence shown at trial revealed Zieler did not manually strangle the victims, but potentially used pillows found at the scene, NBC 2 reported.
A medical examiner testified that it takes 3-5 minutes for someone to die from suffocation. He said that’s after the 60-70 seconds it takes for someone to lose consciousness, a fact noted by prosecutor Daniel Feinberg when speaking to jurors.
For decades, Florida did not required a unanimous decision in capital punishment cases. The state previously allowed a judge to impose the death penalty as long as a majority of jurors were in favor of the ultimate punishment.
However, in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled state law, saying it allowed judges too much discretion, Fox News Digital reported.
As a result, the state Legislature then passed a bill requiring a 10-2 jury recommendation. But the state Supreme Court said such recommendations should be unanimous, prompting lawmakers in 2017 to require just that.
Three years later, with new a new justice appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state Supreme Court rescinded its earlier decision and ruled that a death recommendation does not need to be unanimous. The state will allow the death penalty with a jury recommendation of 8-4 or more in favor of execution, according to Fox.
The state of Florida has executed two convicted murderer so far this year.