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Gruesome details given in court on day one of testimonies in 33-year-old murder case

Posted at 7:41 PM, May 16, 2023

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — The mother who had to bury her 11-year-old daughter in 1990 faced the accused killer in the court during opening testimonies.

11-year-old Robin Cornell and 32-year-old Lisa Story both died on May 9, 1990. Joseph Zieler is the man facing charges in the killings and he could get the death penalty if convicted.

During testimonies, we learned more about the day Jan Cornell came home to find her daughter and friend 32-year-old Lisa Story dead inside her home. She said the last thing she told her daughter was "Good night, I'm going to Donnie's, I love you."

Before giving the gruesome details of the scene, Jan told the court her fifth-grade daughter loved to jump rope and play outdoors.

The night before Jan found her daughter and friend Story, she explained that Story just moved in that night. After helping her move in, Jan's boyfriend invited her to watch a playoff basketball game. Jan said she originally wasn't going to go, but Robin told her to go have fun and to remind her boyfriend to pick her up for school the following morning.

After her night out, Jan returned home at 4 a.m. to find her sliding door slightly open. When she walked inside she found her once tidy home ransacked. She then went into her bedroom to find her daughter Robin lying lifeless on the floor.

Jan said her daughter was lying face down and a pillow propping her lower body up.

In court, as she cried giving her testimony, Zieler was sitting only a few feet away from Jan looking directly at her. Zieler didn't show any emotions and refused to look at the photos being shown in court.

“The semen that was found on the bed sheet where Robin was sleeping matches the defendant to a frequency over 1 and 700 billion. It’s actually even better than that, but the FDLE stops at the number because the human mind can’t fathom a number bigger than that," said the state prosecutor during opening

The state said they are depending on three big pieces of evidence; the semen found on the bed sheet, pillow case, and inside of Robin.

The state added that they found a piece of hair matching Zieler's, that was found on Story's body.

"This is something that the state doesn’t have to prove but, it’s not an element of the offense. Nevertheless, it’s something that pops up in these types of cases. That word is motive. Mr. Zieler had no motive," said Kevin Shirley Zieler's defense attorney.

The defense believes the attack on Robin and Story was personal and that the attacker had it out for Jan.

"This sounds like someone was really angry at you," said defense attorney Lee Hollander.

If convicted, Zieler could face the death penalty. With the new state bill that's been signed into law, only eight jurors need to vote for the death penalty.