Matthew Zucco might not have pulled the trigger, but he was found guilty Friday night in the murder of a popular 19-year-old Schaumburg High School graduate.
In a case that touched on drugs, guns and money, a Cook County jury convicted the Hanover Park man of first-degree murder in the September 2008 killing of Joseph Ziegler, a Harper College student at the time who ran a marijuana business from the Hoffman Estates home he shared with his family.
Zucco, now 23, and went to the home with alleged accomplice Clinton Johnson to steal Ziegler’s stash of $12,000 kept in a safe, prosecutors have said.
But the plan became lethal when Zucco and Ziegler got into a physical struggle and the .38-caliber revolver discharged, striking Ziegler in the head, prosecutors said.
Jurors deliberated for less than four hours. Prosecutors sought a conviction on a special charge that Zucco pulled the trigger that resulted in the murder, but the jury found Zucco not guilty on that issue. That would have meant an extended sentence of 85 years to life in prison. He now faces up to 60 years in prison.
Jeffery Ziegler, Joseph’s father, said he was "glad for the conviction" but that "we still don’t have a sentence and that will be the closure we’re looking for.”
Zucco testified on his own behalf and said he and Johnson went to the home to buy $450 worth of marijuana.
Zucco said the deal went bad, Ziegler pulled a gun and Zucco had to defend himself. In the struggle, the gun discharged while in the hand of Ziegler, killing him, Zucco said.
Johnson painted an entirely different picture, testifying that he and Zucco went to rob Ziegler, with Zucco carrying a gun as they walked through backyards to Ziegler’s house. He said they knew Ziegler sold drugs and had a substantial amount of cash in the home.
Johnson said Zucco went to Ziegler’s bedroom to get the money while Johnson waited upstairs. After hearing a gunshot, Zucco came upstairs and said he had shot Ziegler, Johnson said.
The two fled with the gun but no money, burning their clothes and trying to get treatment for a chest wound Zucco suffered when a fragment from the bullet struck him.
Johnson said he threw the revolver down a sewer and some extra ammunition for it down another. Police were able to recover the gun and the bullets, which were presented as evidence.
Several other witnesses, including the driver of the car who was not charged in this case, corroborated Johnson’s account. Johnson escaped a murder charge in the case by agreeing to testify against Zucco, in exchange for an attempted armed robbery conviction and a 15-year sentence.
Defense attorney Tom Glasgow in closing statements told the jury not to believe Johnson’s testimony.
“Doubt the man who has every reason to lie to you,” said Glasgow.
Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Clarke poked holes in Zucco’s story, including the fact that Ziegler showed no signs of gunshot residue on his hands.
“His hands were never near that gun,” said Clarke. “It was a contact gunshot wound. The barrel was against his head. Joey Ziegler could not have fired that gun.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times