Jury recommends death penalty for Florida man who killed girl and her babysitter in 1990

Jurors in southwest Florida have recommended the death penalty for a man convicted of killing an 11-year-old girl and her babysitter more than 30 years ago. The recommendation came after a trial in which Joseph Zeller yelled at the jury and made obscene gestures while he was on the witness stand.

A Lee County jury voted 10-2 in favor of death for Zeller after nearly five hours of deliberations Wednesday night, according to court records. The same panel last week found Zeller, 60, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder.

After a hearing on June 26, a judge will make a final decision on whether Zeller will be executed or spend the rest of his life in prison. Florida law previously required a unanimous jury recommendation for a convicted murderer to face the death penalty, but the governor signed a new law last month. Ron DeSantis Only an 8-4 vote is needed in favor of execution.

Zeller was jailed in 2016 on an unrelated assault charge after his DNA was found in the cold-case murders of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and 32-year-old Lisa Storey, authorities said.

The girl and the woman were found in a Cape Coral apartment in May 1990, authorities said. Robin’s mother had gone out for the night and when she returned the next morning, she found the suffocated bodies. Investigators say both victims were sexually assaulted.

Cape Coral is about 100 miles south of Tampa.

CBS affiliate WINK-TV reported. That Zeller stunned the courtroom when he claimed he had slept with Cornell’s mother months before the murder.

“I thought the only way to get my DNA was to sleep with John Cornell.” Then he called Cornell a pig: “She’s calling me a rapist and a murderer, and I’m calling her a pig because she doesn’t wash her sheets.”

Also WINK-TV Reported that Zeller yelled at the jury and made obscene gestures while on the stand;

“I mean, everybody’s talking about the finger,” said her attorney, Lee Hollander. “His behavior on the stand didn’t help. If you’re in a hole, stop digging. That’s what I wanted to say right then and there.”

Hollander continued: “I’m back behind the consulting table. And he’s standing in the witness chair. And it was like sitting and watching a train wreck.”

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