Imagine losing thirty-six years of your life...

Monday 16 April 2012

Life throws out chances to us all the time.  We either catch them or let them go and who knows what influences come into play as we make our choices.

My sons nagged me for…probably four years…before I succumbed to the lures of the Social Media site Twitter.  For the life of me I couldn’t see why anyone would be the slightest bit interested if I went to have a cup of coffee; nor could I imagine caring if anyone else did.

I guess that was my 72 year old take on this new-fangled bit of technological communication given that I was perfectly happy with email and SMS.

I shall not go into the lures and carrots these lads hung before their mother; suffice to say I joined up in the latter half of 2011 and have since found my 7th heaven.

Finding people to follow was intriguing and when I realized that I could watch a conversation unfold between Mia Farrow and Salman Rushdie, I was sold.

By way of introductions and recommendations I finally came across and followed a charming USA-based lawyer who specializes in Cold Cases. To this day I have no idea what his real name is but he goes under the pen name of Vidocq (Vidster) who is also a fictional character in the book Vidocq is currently writing.

Vid told me about a current case he is working on, where the accused, Tommy Zeigler is still on Death Row for the 1975 quadruple murders that took place on Christmas Eve inside his family’s furniture store in Wintergarden, Florida.

A quick calculation and I realized that I had been three months away from delivering my third child (second son) when that crime took place and Tommy Zeigler had been incarcerated for the entire length of my now-36 year old son’s life.

My concern grew as Vid explained to me that he firmly believed Tommy had not had a fair trial owing to dubious procedures in the gathering of evidence, several anomalies in the presentation of the evidence and the dis-allowance of DNA evidence, which back then was in its infancy of development.

With sinking heart I was reminded of a powerful piece of theatre I’d seen in New York several years ago. Black Theatre indeed, based on true cases. I stumbled on the Off-Broadway production when I passed a small downtown theatre quite by chance and scrambled to get a ticket on the spot…the last seat available.

The play was the critically acclaimed The Exonerated  by authors Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen.

I’d heard about the play because of its 2002 production at the Los Angeles Actors’ Gang Theater where Tim Robbins was Creative Director.

Theatre notes on The Exonerated indicate that the authors carried out extensive research of letters, case files, interviews and the public record and told the true stories of six people in the USA sent to Death Row for crimes they did not commit. 

The play has been influential. In 2002, Blank and Jensen were invited to present The Exonerated for Governor George Ryan of Illinois, as he was considering whether to commute the sentences of over 140 Illinois death row inmates. That performance took place at the 2002 National Gathering of the Death Row Exonerated, for an audience including over 40 exonerated death row inmates, Governor Ryan, and several members of the Illinois State Legislature, as well as major religious leaders

It is gut-wrenching, confronting and horrifying theatre and the tragedy is that there are many similar situations on Death Row today.  Tommy Zeigler’s being one of them.

With this play still very much in the forefront of my mind I read Vid’s eBook account of the crime, the procedures and evidence that didn’t add up and asked if I could write a review. Along with many others, it sits on Vid’s website together with a fascinating amount of detail of Tommy’s and other Cold Cases.

I made the decision to write to Tommy.

We now correspond regularly. He is a mild-mannered, charming and humble individual in his 60s who has never given up hope that one day justice would be done and he could reclaim whatever little was left of his life.

A few days ago, Vid emailed me with the startling news of the emergence of new evidence in Tommy’s case.

It is far too complex for me to go into here, but I thought I would provide comprehensive links for those of you who would care to pursue this for yourselves.

Yes, I know there is always huge public concern and outrage when murders are committed and rightly so.  But having read comprehensively all of Vid’s material, I am convinced that Tommy’s case needs to be looked at again with the inclusion of modern DNA techniques and correction of procedural errors.

Should you care to follow this fascinating story, the following links will take you to everything you could possible know.  Please feel free to forward or include the links wherever or to whom you feel they may be appropriate.

Imagine losing thirty-six years of your life on Death Row when you may well be innocent.

Vidocq passionately believes that Tommy is innocent.  So do I.  I invite you to read further and come to your own conclusion.

One thing is sure. Tommy needs all the help he can get.


  1. I certainly cannot imagine that. And I feel for Tommy. It is a clear case of how a system and laws formulated to protect innocent people are clearly flawed.

    You did well, Nancy - to highlight the plight of how injustice can be corrected. And it certainly is mysterious how Twitter connects strangers and a cause, both of whom affects lives of those in contact and those who may be influenced by it.

    Vidster is like the neighbour in one of Tim Allen's sitcom, faceless but with a heart.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Kerry but all due praise should go to Vidocq...he is the driving force and the brains behind this story. I cannot bear injustice of any kind and those who lose so much of their lives because of it are to be supported at any cost.