Joseph Zieler’s antics in court could have doomed him in murder trial

Reporter: Claire Galt
Published: Updated:

It took 33 years for justice to be served in the homicides of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and her babysitter Lisa Story in Cape Coral. But it only took jurors three hours to return a guilty verdict.

Joseph Zieler smirked at the camera as jurors said he was guilty.

Zieler sits in jail, now convicted of the 1990 murders of Robin and Story, 32.

Zieler didn’t let the jury reach its verdict without first putting on a show.

His attorney, Lee Hollander, cannot say whether he recommended his client testify in his own defense or if Zieler made the decision on his own.

“I mean, everyone’s talking about the finger,” Hollander said. “His conduct on the stand did not help. If you’re in a hole, stop digging. That’s what I wanted to say right then and there.”

Zieler kept going, flashing everyone the bird.

He also called Robin’s mother, Jan Cornell a pig. He said he slept with her months before the killings.

“As soon as he went for his pocket, I thought this is not going to end well,” Hollander said.

Zieler screamed at the jury while on the stand, and the judge had to stop him.

“I’m back behind counsel table. And he’s up in the in the witness chair. And it was like, sitting down watching a train wreck,” Hollander said.

Elaine Belling who has followed the case from the beginning was in the courtroom.

“Until he took the stand you. You in the back of your mind. You wonder who is this person. What is he like? But that removed all doubt, didn’t it,” Belling said.

Belling said she lived near the Cornells when the murder happened but did not know the family.

She followed the case in the newspapers and on the television and for the last week, in court.

“It moves so much faster than I thought it would. And it was as horrifying as I thought it would be. And as gut-wrenching for the families and those of us who lived in this community all these years and wondered about it,” she said.

She said Zieler’s antics may have been a blessing in disguise.

“There was a sense of community in the courtroom. I’m sure you felt it too. I felt like I was a part of that community these last few days,” Belling said.

In fact, she thinks they sealed the deal.

“It’s a good thing that we allowed the defendant to, to, to show who he is,” Belling said. “We want him to stay behind bars as he’s been for the last seven years, don’t we?”

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