EXCLUSIVE: America’s longest-serving death row inmate, Tommy ZeiglerDavid Van Taylor (awarded-winning filmmaker) is documenting the story of Jeremy, his fight for innocence after nearly 50 years behind bars for a murder conviction.The Perfect Candidate) and Marlon Johnson (River City Drumbeat)).
Produced by the film’s producers Blood and Judgment(w/t), include Andy Breckman — the four-time Emmy nominee known for creating the hit USA Network comedy series, Monk — and Ken Druckerman and Banks Tarver from Left/RightNorth Road company,, (The New York Times presents: Framing Britney Starr).
Blood and JudgmentAsks Zeigler if he is a criminal mastermind or a victim of a clever frame-up. The story begins on Christmas Eve 1975 when a series of multiple homicides takes place in a locked furniture shop outside of Orlando, Florida. Amid the chaotic, bloody crime scene — four bodies, eight guns, 28 bullets — a young detective soon settles on a surprising suspect. Tommy Zeigler, a store owner, was taken into police custody. He was also hospitalized with a.38 gash in his stomach.
Convicted and sentenced to death months later, Zeigler has twice come within hours of the electric chair, though throughout the decades, he’s consistently maintained his innocence. Over the decades a pro bono team of lawyers, a private investigator, a true-crime author and others have uncovered major issues with the case — including a disappearing witness, a missing will, a sedated juror and a homophobic whisper campaign — that may add up to an elaborate frame-up by the real perpetrators. The state authorities insist DNA testing Zeigler will exonerate Zeigler, but they have not changed their stance. Until now.
A judge ordered that testing be conducted almost 50 years after the murders. One of the nation’s top forensic labs is right now examining evidence, including blood spatter, fingernail scrapings, vomit and more. The summer is expected to bring forth results.
The turning point in Zeigler’s fight for testing came in 2021, when progressive prosecutor Monique Worrell rode a Black Lives Matter wave to become Orange County’s elected chief prosecutor. Worrell, who is Black, had previously investigated the case of Zeigler, who is white, and told the filmmakers that it shows “the criminal legal system is a machine, and anyone can get caught in that machine.” Worrell’s office worked with Zeigler’s lawyers to release the evidence for testing, overcoming intense pushback from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attorney general.
It was Breckman who first brought Ziegler’s story to Van Taylor, with the latter then pitching the team at Left/Right. Johnson, a Florida-based filmmaker joined the team shortly after production began. The project was funded independently by the team, and the team followed the story for five years with exclusive access to key actors.
Van Taylor told Deadline that “this project was compelling from the get-go, but our bet was that one day the courts would agree to testing. That day has finally come.”
Breckman added that “with its Sherlock-style ‘locked room’ mystery, this story has blown my mind for decades. It’s like a real-lifeKnives Out. I can hardly wait for state-of-the-art DNA testing to reveal what really happened.”
“This is a five-decade-long true crime story, a forensic mystery, and a modern-day social-justice thriller, all rolled into one,” said Druckerman in closing. “And we’re perfectly poised to capture the final chapter, where everyone’s questions should finally be answered.”
Van Taylor is an IDA Award winner and News & Documentary Emmy nominee whose feature credits includeTo Tell The Truth, Advise & Dissent, A Perfect Candidate Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance and Judas Priest. He’s also directed and produced on such series as Death Row Stories, True Crime with Aphrodite JamesAnd InterventionAmong others.
Johnson is a nominee for the SXSW Auditor Award and has directed and produced documentaries, including River City Drumbeat, Symphony in D Deep City.
Breckman’s series MonkThe comedy starring Tony Shalhoub aired on USA Network for eight seasons, 2002-2009. He was also the creator of the comedy The Good CopNetflix has a new series called ”, starring Josh Groban & Tony Danza, available on Netflix. Additional writing credits include the 2001 Jerry-Zucker comedy Rat RaceAnd Saturday Night Live.
IDA, News & Documentary Emmy and Peabody Award winners Druckerman and Tarver founded Left/Right in 2005. Other notable titles produced by the duo recently include Turn Every Page – The Adventures of Robert CaroAnd Robert Gottlieb, The New York Times Presents and The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show On Earth.
WME represents Left/Right, Breckman by CAA, and 3 Arts Entertainment represent Right/Left.
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