IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Video shows convicted murderer elbow attorney in the face hours before he's sentenced to death

Joseph Zieler, 61, was sentenced to death Monday after he was convicted in the 1990 murders of 11-year-old Robin Cornell and her babysitter, Lisa Story, 32.
Get more newsLiveon

A Florida man convicted in the 1990 killing of an 11-year-old girl and her babysitter elbowed his attorney in the face hours before he was sentenced to death, wild courtroom video shows.

During Monday's hearing in a Florida courtroom, Joseph Zieler, 61, asked to speak with his attorney Kevin Shirley, video from NBC affiliate WBBH of Fort Myers shows. As Shirley bent down to speak with his client, Zieler raised his elbow and hit the man in the face.

Bailiffs immediately tackled Zieler to the ground, the video shows.

Shirley said he was OK, telling the judge: "I used to box. I’ve taken a lot better shots than that one." He told NBC News that he was not injured and does not know why his client attacked him.

"He had to know how the bailiffs would react," Shirley said in an emailed statement Tuesday. "We had a very good working relationship. It was probably his last effort to put on a public display and I was the only civilian that he was able to lure within arms reach."

Convicted murderer Joseph Zieler is wrestled to the courtroom floor by Lee County Sheriff's deputies during a motion hearing on Monday, June 26, 2023.
Lee County sheriff's deputies wrestle convicted murderer Joseph Zieler to the courtroom floor at a motion hearing Monday. Ricardo Rolon / USA Today Network

Zieler was in court Monday morning for a Spencer hearing, which allows defendants to appeal directly to a judge, after he was convicted in the brutal murders of Robin Cornell, 11, and her babysitter, Lisa Story, 32 according to the Fort Myers News-Press. Robin and Story were asphyxiated and sexually assaulted.

After Zieler struck his attorney, he was escorted out of the courtroom and brought back about 10 minutes later, the newspaper reported. Zieler then refused to let his family members speak on his behalf and claimed his innocence.

"I have nothing to do with this," he said, according to the newspaper. "I maintain my innocence."

Hours later, he was sentenced to death on two first-degree murder counts, according to online court documents.

Robin’s mother, Jan Cornell, found Robin and Story dead in their Cape Coral condominium on May 10, 1990. Cornell testified that she lived at the home with her daughter and a friend and had left the night before to visit her boyfriend.

When she returned home, she found that the back sliding glass doors were open and that the home was in disarray. She discovered the bodies of her daughter and her friend in upstairs bedrooms, the court documents say. DNA was collected from the scene, but the case went cold until 2016, when Zieler was arrested for an unrelated crime.

As he was booked for the 2016 crime, his DNA was entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, where it unexpectedly matched DNA samples from the 1990 crime scene, the documents said. A second sample taken from Zieler was also proven to be a match, according to the documents.

Cornell testified that she did not know Zieler, who was 28 at the time of the murders. The court documents said the crime was "cold, calculated and premeditated."