Mother speaks after jury recommends death for daughter’s killer Joseph Zieler

Reporter: Claire Galt Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

A mother has come closer to peace after a jury recommended the death penalty for the man who killed her daughter and a family friend.

Joseph Zieler, who was convicted of murdering 11-year-old Robin Cornell and family friend Lisa Story, could face death should a judge agree with the jury.

While that decision still hangs in limbo, there’s no doubt, however, that Jan Cornell’s world changed 33 years and 20 days ago.

That’s when Joseph Zieler broke into her Cape Coral home and murdered her 11-year-old daughter Robin and friend, who was babysitting that night, 32-year-old Lisa Story.

Cornell said she still remembers every detail, every smell and hears every word.

“I still go back to that first day in disbelief that I, that I was in, that I was just French braiding her hair this morning,” Cornell said. “We just went to dinner. We just stopped and bought candy. You went to bed; you were excited about your next day. Because, after school, we were gonna go eat, you were gonna go to a ballgame for your first crush. You were gonna go watch him play baseball.”

Cornell also remembers everything she saw when she came home.

She found Robin’s and Lisa’s body.

She said those awful memories play on repeat in her mind.

“At my mother’s grave on April 9th, Robin said, ‘What happens to people when they get buried in the ground?’ And I said, ‘You know, you’ve met a, I would always tell, like, I’d say, well, dirt and water and bugs.’ And she was like, ‘Oh, if I ever died, I don’t want to be in the ground. I want to be up in one of those things.'”

If that wasn’t poignant enough, Robin also said how she would like to be honored after being interred.

“Another thing she said to me at my mother’s grave was ‘why don’t these people have flowers?'” recalled Cornell, “and I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and she said, ‘Well, if I died, I’d want flowers all the time.'”

Her mother said she also made a promise to Robin.

“I had to say goodbye to Robin, at the funeral, on the cemetery,” Cornell said. “I promised her I will never ever stop looking for the person that hurt you both.”

Cornell kept her promise.

In 2016, police arrested Zieler for battery on his son, and a DNA test linked him to the killings.

He now faces the death penalty.

Might this change Cornell’s world again?

“I would like for it to go away, but I just I love her so much, and I miss her every day,” Cornell said. “I have missed her every day, since the second I knew this happened, and that part has not gotten better over time.”

Cornell said she often imagines the what ifs. What would Robin be like today? Who would her friends be? Would she be married? Have children?

But Cornell said she’s at peace. She’s married and spends her days with her family.

As for Zieler?

She said it doesn’t really matter to her whether he lives or dies, just that he never hurt anyone again, like he hurt Robin and Lisa.

Zieler has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday, and the family plans to be there. Sentencing is scheduled for June 26.

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