After attorneys proved that William Ziegler had been illegally convicted, denied adequate counsel, and sentenced to death after prosecutors unfairly withheld evidence, the State today agreed to a reduced sentence for Mr. Ziegler in exchange for a guilty plea so that he could be immediately released from jail.
Last year, an Alabama appeals court ruled that Mr. Ziegler, who was sentenced to death in Mobile County in 2003, must be given a new trial because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that a key witness falsely identified Mr. Ziegler as the man who threatened to kill the victim. The prosecution also failed to turn over evidence showing the killing happened in a car belonging to the State’s only eyewitness — not in the woods, as the witness claimed and the State contended at trial.
In addition to the prosecutor’s misconduct, Mr. Ziegler’s lawyer did nothing to represent him during a nearly 8-month period leading up to his trial. The appeals court ruled that trial counsel took “no steps to investigate the crime, no steps to prepare a defense for Ziegler, and no steps to negotiate with the State or otherwise to advocate for his client.”
Mr. Ziegler received extraordinary legal assistance on appeal from his lawyers at Sidley Austin, a Chicago based law firm, who proved that his initial conviction and death sentence were illegal and unreliable, and that he should now be released from prison. The Sidley firm has taken on the cases of over a dozen death row prisoners in Alabama and has been an outstanding partner in the effort to meet the legal needs of death row prisoners in the state who have no right to counsel and are in great need.