Tearful wife recounts husband's gunfire incident with lost teenager
Pontiac — The wife of a Rochester Hills man charged with trying to shoot and kill a lost teenager who knocked on their door tearfully recounted that traumatic morning during her husband's trial Thursday in Oakland County Circuit Court.
Dana Zeigler said she had just finished a shower and was preparing to get dressed for work April 12 when she heard her doorbell. Dana Zeigler said she looked out the window and saw no vehicles — outside of their own — parked outside and knew of no one who would be stopping by shortly after 8 a.m.
When she saw a strange teenager wearing a skull cap and backpack at her door, she screamed at him, “What are you doing on my porch?”
She testified that he responded, “I am on my way to school” as he opened the storm door and she believes, attempted to open the inner wooden door.
She screamed for her husband, Jeffrey Zeigler, who she said was in a “dead sleep” from medication he took the night before. Zeigler told investigators he takes pain killers, muscle relaxers and Valium for injuries he has suffered to his hips, back and arms.
Zeigler rushed down the stairs and seeing the teenager, ran to his first-floor office where he kept firearms, including a loaded 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun.
Dana Zeigler broke down in tears as a security video showing the incident was played again for the jury — this time in slow motion. She bent forward on the witness stand, gripping her face with both hands and dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Zeigler, seated a few feet away, was visibly moved by his wife’s distress.
The teenager’s mother, seated with friends in the courtroom, also fought back tears at seeing the video.
The video shows the 14-year-old Rochester High freshman, identified as Brennan Walker, bolt off the porch and down the driveway as a shirtless Zeigler steps out on his porch, aims the shotgun from his shoulder and attempts to fire the weapon. The safety apparently was still engaged and he releases it and fires off one round, which does not hit the teen.
Defense attorney Robert Morad later pointed out that his client never went down the driveway in search of the teenager nor did he fire again, although there were six other live shotgun shells in the weapon. The boy was not wounded.
Oakland County Sheriff's Detective Shawn Pace said he found the video “offending … especially in this day and age.”
The teenager told detectives he had overslept and missed his school bus, so was trying to walk to school and became lost when he cut through an unfamiliar subdivision.
Closing arguments are expected Friday in the trial of Zeigler, 53, who is charged with assault with intent to murder.
Zeigler initially told deputies he slipped and the shotgun accidentally discharged in the air. But Pace said the home surveillance video showed otherwise, and Zeigler explained when interviewed by police that he was “tired of being a victim” and cited previous break-ins of his home.
Sheriff’s office records show Zeigler’s home or garage in the Christian Hills subdivision was broken into three time in 2009 when the Zeiglers were on vacation and twice in 2010, including once while they were asleep in an upstairs bedroom. A teenage neighbor was eventually prosecuted for three of the incidents.
The break-ins prompted the couple to install a home security system, including surveillance cameras, which ironically, were used to prosecute the former Detroit firefighter. The couple have lived in the quiet subdivision for more than 20 years, 14 of them at their present address.
On Thursday, defense attorney Robert Morad pointed out that when the shotgun discharged, the surveillance video reveals a branch fell from a nearby tree, an indication that the blast was fired in the air and not at the teenager fleeing down the horseshoe driveway.
Morad asked for a directed verdict from Judge Wendy Potts that the prosecution had failed to make its case against his client, to which assistant prosecutor Kelly Collins said: “Being a bad shot does not negate one’s intentions.”
Potts agreed, saying it was a matter for the jury to ultimately decide.
Morad also sought a mistrial, claiming the prosecution’s main witness, Pace, referred to the teen as a “colored kid” and “colored boy” in an effort to inflame the jury.
Collins said a transcript of the deputy’s interview with Zeigler showed the homeowner referred to hearing his wife scream that someone was breaking into the house and that he grabbed his shotgun after seeing “that colored kid” at his front door.
Potts asked Morad why he didn’t object when the statements were made in court, including to her privately at the bench. She said she would permit attorneys to write a statement of how often the descriptor was made, which she would personally read to the jury.
While Zeigler is white and the teenager is black, neither side has argued that the incident was racially motivated, though it sparked accusations in the community that it was racially motivated.
The sheriff’s Rochester Hills substation reported no problems with either the student or Zeigler in the past but did say records showed multiple runs had been made to the Zeigler home for break-ins and theft of beer from a garage in 2009.
Zeigler was convicted of firing a handgun at another motorist during an altercation in 2004, according to court records. On the day of the April 2018 arrest, Zeigler told Pace his medications include painkillers, muscle relaxers and Valium but he hadn’t used any that day.
Citizens inside their homes when faced by an intruder can lawfully defend themselves if they feel their safety is threatened in a break-in. But a fleeing person, especially off the property, does not pose such a threat.
If convicted of the crime, Zeigler can face any term of years up to life in prison.