A death row inmate in Alabama is out of prison after 15 years, 50 days, becoming the second such convict to walk in the state this month. William Ziegler, initially convicted of the 2000 murder of Russell Allen Baker in Mobile County, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting murder in a plea deal with prosecutors yesterday. He was sentenced to time served and allowed to leave a free man, AL.com reports. Just five months ago prosecutors had indicated they would again seek the death penalty for Ziegler, 39, who won a new trial in 2012 in a post-appeal challenge. In her ruling on that challenge, Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart highlighted three issues: a juror who lied about his views on the death penalty during jury selection; evidence that was withheld by the state regarding a witness who eventually retracted her testimony; and a poor job done by Ziegler's lawyers.
The assistant attorney general wouldn't discuss what spawned the plea deal, which required Ziegler to admit that his actions led to Baker's stabbing death. Ziegler and three accomplices were convicted after Baker's body was found in a wooded area near Ziegler's home and police discovered the pair had fought at a party, the New York Daily News reports. Ziegler is "a menace to our society," says the victim's aunt. "This is not justice for our nephew." Though happy her son is free, Ziegler's mother says her son "was put in a position again" and "had no choice but to go ahead and plead to a murder he did not commit." AL.com notes it likely would have been at least a year before his case went to trial, and Ziegler himself tells WKRG, "I took that deal for one reason and one reason only and that was to go home ... I maintain my innocence to this day."