Jurors gave Jeffrey Ziegler almost everything he wanted last month when they found Matthew Zucco guilty of first-degree murder in the 2008 shooting death of Ziegler's 19-year-old son Joseph.
But the jury found the Hanover Park man not guilty of personally discharging a firearm in the commission of the crime, which would have added 25 years onto his sentence of 20 to 60 years in prison. That disappointed Jeffrey Ziegler, who experienced a parent's worst nightmare when he returned home from his job with the Internal Revenue Service on Sept. 4, 2008, to find his son dead in the basement of the family's Hoffman Estates home.
Cook County Judge Kay Hanlon took some of that sting away, when she sentenced the 23-year-old to 35 years in prison for the murder of Joseph Ziegler. Zucco, who received credit for 798 days in custody, must complete the entire sentence before he is eligible for parole.
Audible sobs from about two dozen of Joseph Ziegler's family and friends accompanied the victim impact statement from Jeffrey Ziegler, who quietly described the sleepless nights he spent agonizing over his son's final moments and wondering if police would ever arrest the killer.
"Now I lose sleep over the sheer loss of my son. Everywhere I go, everything I do reminds me of the void in my life that cannot be filled," he said.
"There's not a single day that I haven't thought of these events," said Ziegler who said he cannot exorcise from his memory that terrible moment he discovered his son's lifeless body. He described how he and his daughter remained in the family home until she graduated from high school and how he couldn't bear to live there after that and took a pay cut and transferred out of state.
He spoke about the "flood of emotion" that overtook him every time he passed a football or baseball field where his son had played and concluded with a simple wish. "I hope he knows how very much I love and miss him," he said.
Prosecutors say Zucco put Ziegler in a headlock and shot him just above the right ear with a .38 caliber, snub-nosed revolver during an attempted armed robbery he committed with his former friend and onetime co-defendant Clinton Johnson, a former Marine from Streamwood. Johnson agreed to plead guilty to attempted armed robbery and testify against Zucco in exchange for a 15-year sentence. He told jurors they went to the house that day to rob Ziegler, who prosecutors acknowledge sold pot and had more than $12,000 in a safe in his room at the time of his death.
Johnson testified he was upstairs when he heard a single gunshot and encountered Zucco ascending the basement saying "I shot Joey." The two wiped away their fingerprints and fled, according to testimony. Later Johnson dropped into two different sewers the gun and the ammunition, both of which police recovered. Eighteen months later, police received a tip in connection with the 2010 suburban drug sweep dubbed "Dial-A-Rock" that led to the arrest of Johnson and Zucco who maintained that Ziegler drew a gun on him and was shot during the ensuing struggle.
Defense attorney William Beattie read excerpts from letters family, friends and a Cook County Jail chaplain wrote to Hanlon attesting to Zucco's sincerity and remorse and to their believe that he is not a threat. Beattie concluded with a letter from Zucco's mother and asked the judge to "bridge the gap between vengeance and mercy."
Cook County Assistant State's Attorney Mike Clarke requested substantial prison time for a "crime motivated by nothing more than greed," committed by a defendant who was on probation for a firearm offense at the time.
Insisting his client is not a lost cause, defense attorney Thomas Glasgow asked the judge to exercise discretion and compassion and show mercy.
"Mr. Zucco has shown he is someone worthy of redemption. He is someone worthy of rehabilitation," said Glasgow.
Addressing Jeffrey Ziegler directly, Zucco expressed remorse for the pain he and his family have endured.
"I'm sorry for your loss. I'd like to apologize to everyone affected," he said.
Jeffrey Ziegler looked his son's killer in the eyes and didn't believe a word.
"That wasn't for me. That was a show for the judge," Ziegler said after the hearing. "If he really felt sorry, he would have come forward."