(NEW YORK) — A white man who was captured on surveillance video stepping out of his house to fire upon a black teen who had knocked on his door to ask for directions, has been found guilty by a Michigan jury.
Jeffrey Zeigler, 53, was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. He initially had been charged with assault to commit attempted murder.
In a Pontiac courtroom Friday, Rob Morad, Jeffrey Zeigler’s defense lawyer, had said in closing statements that the former firefighter did not intend to harm then-14-year-old Brennan Walker during the incident in April.
Around 8 a.m. on April 12, Walker was attempting to walk to Rochester High School after missing the bus when he found himself lost and knocked on Zeigler’s door in Rochester Hills. He encountered Jeffrey Zeigler’s wife, Dana Zeigler, who started screaming after mistaking him for a burglar.
“You can see on the video, ladies and gentlemen, too when he’s on the porch, Mr. Zeigler does appear to slip. … His right hand is barely even on the gun when the gun goes off. You can tell, he doesn’t have control of that gun,” Morad said. “He wasn’t trying to kill him when that gun went off.”
However, assistant prosecutor Kelly Collins countered in her closing argument, saying, “Just because he wasn’t successful, doesn’t negate what his intent was.”
In April, Walker described his encounter with Dana Zeigler.
“I knocked on her door a few times and she came down yelling at me before I could say anything and she thought I was trying to break into her house,” Walker told ABC Detroit affiliate WXYZ-TV in April. “I was trying to explain to her that I wanted to get directions to go to my school. I told her, ‘No, I go to Rochester High; I’m just looking for directions to Rochester High.’”
In court, Dana Zeigler testified that she saw a black person at her door that day and started screaming.
“I was screaming as loud as I possibly could, saying somebody is breaking into my house.” she said. “I screamed at him and I asked him what he was doing there. He tells me that he is going to school and at that point he approaches the door, forward momentum, comes forward, opens the screen door, and puts his hand on the door handle again, as though he’s coming into my house.”
“Number one, he didn’t look like a child. He was a rather big man standing there, and also, if he was going to school, we have no schools in our area,” she said.
A 911 call summoned Oakland County Sheriff’s Office deputies to the Ziegler home in what was described as an attempted break-in.
In April, during a court appearance, Jeffrey Ziegler, a retiree of the Detroit Fire Department and on disability for a 2014 job-related injury, said he was asleep in bed “when my wife started screaming and crying.”
The surveillance video shown this week in court showed Jeffrey Zeigler, dressed only in pants, exiting his house and shooting once at Walker as the teen runs away. Deputies at the scene described the weapon as a “12-gauge shotgun.”
Jeffrey Zeigler also testified in court this week, saying that he was not trying to kill Walker that day.
“I wanted to fire more up in the air, more towards my shoulder, and I didn’t get the chance to because like I said, it was slippery, and I didn’t have a good grip on the gun. … I felt extremely remorseful. And I was, I was just shocked,” he said.
When asked in court whether he’d handle the situation differently with Walker, Jeffrey Zeigler said, “Absolutely.”
“I would have given him a ride to school,” he said.
Walker was not struck by the bullet fired by Jeffrey Zeigler’s gun.
“I saw him holding it (the gun) like this through the window and I guess I put my hand up. I don’t really remember. And I started to run. I looked back behind me; I saw him aiming at me and I turned back. I turned back and I heard the gunshot. And I tried to run faster,” Walker said in April.
On Friday, Morad reminded jurors that the Zieglers had experienced a number of break-ins.
“It’s a very disheartening feeling when you’re a victim,” Morad said Friday. “Somebody violates the sanctity of your home, comes into your home, when you are actually at home, certainly makes you feel very unsafe and unsettled. … Mrs. Ziegler was unsettled that day, for sure, because she felt that somebody was coming into her home like it had happened before. … That’s why she screamed.”
Ziegler had pleaded not guilty in the case. Sentencing was scheduled for Nov. 18.
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