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Jury recommends death in Cape double homicide

By CJ HADDAD - | May 26, 2023

Joseph Adam Zieler

The jury in a decades-old double homicide case have recommended a sentence of death for Joseph Zieler.

The same jury found Zieler, 61, guilty on May 18 of first-degree murder in the deaths of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and 32-year-old Lisa Story in May of 1990.

The Cape Coral case was considered cold for some time until 2016, when new DNA evidence led to Ziegler’s arrest by the Cape Coral Police Department.

According to the Office of the State Attorney Twentieth Judicial Circuit, the State presented four aggravating factors during the penalty phase. The jury determined that all four of those factors were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, including that the murders were cold, calculated and premeditated, and that they were committed in a heinous, atrocious, and cruel manner.

State Attorney Amira Fox stated: “I hope the verdict and sentence recommendation have finally brought some sense of justice and closure to the families of Lisa Story and Robin Cornell. I want to thank them for their incredible patience and understanding as we all worked together to bring this case to closure over the years. I also want to thank the Cape Coral Police Department for never giving up on their investigation of this case. Due to their diligence and perseverance, it was possible to prosecute this case 33 years after the murders occurred.”

Judge Robert Branning set the case for an evidentiary hearing, known as a Spencer hearing, on June 26. At this hearing the parties can present further evidence and make legal argument as to the sentence. The State will be requesting that the Judge impose a sentence of death.

In September of 2016, Cape Coral police announced that Zieler had been arrested and charged in the murders and rapes of Cornell and Story at their residence at 631 S.E. 12th Ave.

The bodies of Robin and Story were found in their Courtyards apartment on May 10, 1990 by Robin’s mother, Jan Cornell. Both of the victims had been suffocated and sexually assaulted, police reported.

The night before, Cornell’s new roommate, Story, had agreed to watch Robin while she visited her boyfriend. When Cornell returned home the next morning, she heard footsteps inside the apartment.

Upon entering, Cornell found an ironing board open with pictures of her daughter laid out.

According to police, Cornell ran upstairs and discovered Story’s lifeless body in her bed. Cornell then ran to Robin’s room, where she found her daughter’s body lying on the floor of the bedroom.

Detectives were able to collect and save a sample of DNA from the crime scene.

According to records, Zieler was arrested in Lee County two months after the murders for battery and battery on a law enforcement officer or firefighter, but the charges were dropped. He was found guilty of carrying a concealed firearm, dealing trafficking in stolen property and resisting an officer with violence.

Zieler’s only arrest after that was for possession of marijuana; no charges were filed.

On Aug. 27 of 2016, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office responded to Lee Memorial Hospital for a shooting victim, identified as Zachary Zieler, 25. He had sustained a gunshot or a pellet gun wound.

An investigation revealed that Zachary Zieler and his father, Zieler, became engaged in a physical altercation and the elder Zieler armed himself with a pellet gun. At one point, he aimed it at his son and fired the weapon. Zachary’s girlfriend drove him to the hospital when he said he was not able to breathe.

Joseph Zieler was arrested and charged with aggravated battery person uses a deadly weapon.

Then-police chief David Newlan reported in 2016 that Cape detectives were notified of a recent arrestee in the Lee County Jail who matched the DNA sample recovered from the Robin Cornell and Lisa Story crime scene. Joseph Zieler was interviewed and a body sample was taken. Within days, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed the matches.

CCPD officials reported that under a 2009 law, anyone in Florida arrested for a felony will have their DNA taken and compared to CODIS. Zieler’s DNA matched up to the 1990 sample in the database.

Over the years, the crime was featured three times on “America’s Most Wanted.”