By Wayne Hester
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Reuters) - An Alabama death row inmate who won a new trial and then reached a plea deal with prosecutors walked out of jail a free man on Thursday, the second condemned man to do so this month.
William Ziegler, 39, was greeted by family members as he left the Mobile County Metro Jail.
He had been awaiting execution since his conviction in 2001 for the slaying of Russell Allen Baker in Mobile County. But after winning the right to a new trial, Ziegler negotiated a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting murder.
Ziegler acknowledged that his conduct helped lead to Baker's death.
Mobile County Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart sentenced him to the 15 years he had already been incarcerated, which allowed him to be released.
Stewart had granted Ziegler the right to a new trial after finding that his defense lawyer failed to adequately represent him, prosecutors failed to reveal a witness recanted his testimony and a juror lied when asked about his views on the death penalty.
In releasing Ziegler, the judge advised him to keep a positive attitude upon re-entering society.
"The world is a different place than it was 15 years ago when you went to jail," Stewart said as Ziegler faced her in a courtroom before his release.
Another man sentenced to be executed in Alabama, Anthony Ray Hinton, 58, was freed on April 3 after nearly 30 years on death row. In that case, prosecutors dismissed charges in the deaths of two fast-food workers after tests on the defendant's gun could not prove that it fired the bullets used in the slayings.
O'Della Wilson, Ziegler's mother said she was happy that her son gained his freedom, but angry that he had to plead guilty to any crime.
"My son had no choice but to go ahead and plead to murder that he did not commit," she said.
The victim's family was outraged that Ziegler was released from behind bars. No one else has been convicted for the crime.
"This is not justice for our nephew," said the victim's aunt, Beth Johnson.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Simon Cameron-Moore)