A Florida jury recommended death for Joseph Zieler in the case of the 1990 murders of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and her 32-year-old Lisa Story.
On Wednesday, May 24 in late night deliberations, jurors voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Zieler for the brutal double-murder nearly 33 years prior.
On May 10, 1990, Jan Cornell, Robin’s mother, found her 11-year-old daughter and roommate Story dead in their Cape Coral, Florida home. In the subsequent investigation, police found that the two girls were sexually assaulted and that several items were stolen from the home.
The case went cold for 26 years until Zieler was arrested on unrelated battery charges and DNA evidence led police to connect him with the 1990 slayings.
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After years of repeated delays, jurors started the long-awaited trial on Tuesday, May 16. Prosecutors showed DNA evidence and Zieler was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder.
Florida has executed two convicted murderers so far this year, with Zieler now recommended being the third.
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For decades, Florida had not required unanimity in capital punishment. The state previously allowed a judge to impose capital punishment as long as a majority of jurors were in favor of the penalty. But in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out state law, saying it allowed judges too much discretion.
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Three years later, the state Supreme Court, with new conservative jurists appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, rescinded its earlier decision and ruled that a death recommendation does not need to be unanimous.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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