A man convicted of murdering an 11-year-old girl and her babysitter in 1990 beat his own lawyer and was knocked to the ground in court on Monday.
Joseph Zieler, 61, was sentenced to death Monday for the murder of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and her babysitter, Lisa Story, 32, who were raped and suffocated.
While standing in front of a judge, Zieler asked that the cameras in the room be removed before using an expletive and then shoving defense attorney Kevin Shirley in the face.
Three bailiffs quickly tackled the man – who appeared to have “killer” etched on his teeth – to the ground before escorting him out of the courtroom within seconds.
In May, a jury in Lee County, Florida recommended the death penalty, and Monday’s appearance was to appeal to the judge hours before he handed down his sentence.
Joseph Zieler (pictured), who was convicted of the 1990 murder of an 11-year-old girl and her babysitter, beat his own lawyer and was knocked to the ground in court on Monday
In May 1990, Zieler was found guilty of assaulting and murdering 11-year-old Robin Cornell (left) and her 32-year-old babysitter Lisa Story (right) in May 1990.
Zieler, who was arrested in 2016 — 26 years after the cold case murders — was set to plead in court against the jury’s death recommendation.
After the elbow was thrown, Lee Circuit Judge Robert Branning asked Shirley if he was okay, to which the attorney replied that he had taken harder blows before.
The blow came when Zieler – who was still handcuffed – appeared to be trying to quietly deliver a message to his old counselor.
“It seemed like he didn’t want our conversation to be picked up by the microphones. So he swung me down and I bent down, and he hit me,” Shirley recalled Fox 4.
Branning held the convicted killer out of the courtroom for several minutes while making sure Shirley was okay after the blow.
The mother of the 11-year-old girl who killed Zieler, Jan Cornell, was in court Monday watching the incident play out, shocked and surprised.
After being dragged back inside, the man reportedly growled at the judge and those watching, displaying the word “murderer” on his teeth.
Despite the shocking message in his mouth, he refused to let family members speak on his behalf, claiming to be innocent of the crimes.
“I have nothing to do with this,” he said. “I maintain my innocence.”
Judge Branning ultimately denied a motion Zieler filed for a new trial and decided not to overturn his conviction.
A few hours later, he was sentenced to death by the judge in the courtroom.
Zieler, who was arrested in 2016 — 26 years after the cold case murders — was set to plead in court against the jury’s death recommendation. Pictured: Zieler walks into court
Three bailiffs quickly tackled Zieler (photo) and escorted him out of the courtroom
The convicted killer appeared to have the word “murderer” on his teeth in court
Jan Cornell (right) views photos of Robin Cornell (center) and Lisa Story (right) during a joint press conference following the announcement that Zieler had been sentenced to death
“Justice for Robin and justice for Lisa has been done,” Jan Cornell said Monday afternoon
The verdict closes the families who have been seeking justice since they were discovered in a Cape Coral apartment more than 30 years ago.
Cornell and Story were found beaten, assaulted and suffocated in May 1990.
In September 2016, police announced that Zieler had been arrested for their murders after police matched his DNA with traces found at the scene.
“The semen found on the sheet where Robin slept matches the defendant’s frequency of more than 1 and 700 billion,” researchers said at the trial.
Story was taking care of Cornell when Zieler attacked them.
Jan Cornell, Robin’s mother who had gone to stay with her boyfriend for the night, returned the next day to find their bodies.
The murders were counted among famous unsolved crimes and were featured in America’s Most Wanted in 2010.
Jan returned to find the front door locked and entered the house through the rear sliding door, which had been left ajar.
In an upstairs bathroom, she found her daughter’s lifeless body lying face down.
At Zieler’s trial, Jan told the jury that the last thing she said to her daughter was, “Good night, I’m going to Donnie’s, I love you.”
She cried as she told those in court that his daughter was a lively fifth grader who loved jumping rope and playing outside.
Jan Cornell (left with a photo of daughter Robin Cornell) stands next to Attorney Amira Fox (on stage) and Cape Coral Police Chief Anthony Sizemore (in uniform)
Throughout the trial, the defense argued that the attack on Cornell and Story was personal, claiming that Zieler was targeting Jan.
“This sounds like someone was really mad at you,” attorney Lee Hollander said.
Zieler was found guilty of the murder by the jury in early May and was later charged with harassment of Jan Cornell, to whom he sent a letter from prison.
“Justice for Robin and justice for Lisa has been done,” Jan said at a press conference with state attorney Amira Fox and Cape Coral Police Chief Anthony Sizemore.
Fox said she hoped the verdict would bring a sense of peace to the families of the victims.
“I hope the verdict and sentencing recommendation have finally brought a sense of justice and closure to the families of Lisa Story and Robin Cornell,” Fox said.
“I would like to thank them for their incredible patience and understanding as we all worked together to complete this case over the years,” she continued.