By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Allie Conti
By Chris Joseph
By Kyle Swenson
By Ryan Cortes
By Ryan Cortes
By Chris Joseph
Heidle also had a dark propensity for violence, friend Jeff Sansbury testified. One night at 2 a.m. months before the murder, in the parking lot of a gay club in Orlando called the Big Bang, Heidle pulled out a .45 Argentine pistol — the same gun he alleged was Jason's — and shoved it in Sansbury's face. So after the state filed murder indictments against the Larzeleres, Sansbury returned home, frantic, his 79-year-old grandmother, Hazel Johnson, recalled. "Jeff said, 'Steven's lying about Jason and Virginia,' " Johnson recalled.
On a separate occasion after leaving the Big Bang, another pal named Glenn Pace remembered Heidle melting into a rage, pulling a gun from the glove compartment, and waving it. "He said, 'Someone is going to die tonight,' " Pace recalled. "He was out of control." Pace also said the gun looked very similar to the .45 Argentine in state evidence.
So days before Jason Larzelere's trial opened in fall 1992 and more than a year after Norman Larzelere had been killed, the defense was ready. "There's no doubt in my mind that Heidle was the shooter," Lasley says. "Heidle had the murder weapon all along. It was in his house, and then he put it in the creek. And how often does someone who didn't commit the murder have the murder weapon?"
In the Palatka courthouse, near St. Augustine, Lasley settled at the defendant's table wearing a $500 pair of black leather shoes. Minutes later, he remembers, prosecutor Sedgwick materialized before him. "She loved to get in your personal space," Lasley says. "She bent over and was an inch away from me with her face. She said, 'I have won 32 straight capital cases. And this is going to be number 33.' "
"Get ready to be 32 and 1," Lasley replied.
And indeed, days later, in what one newspaper report described as Lasley's "Perry Mason strategy," he claimed Heidle was a killer, who had, with immunity, lied repeatedly to save his own skin. "All I had to do was replace Jason's name with Heidle and I had my case won," Lasley says now.
"Do you think it's funny that I'm accusing you of all of this?" Lasley bristled, when Heidle began to chuckle from the witness stand.
"Yes," Heidle said. "I do."
"I just remember thinking, 'Oh my God,' " trial observer DorrieJean Muller tells New Times. "This is what they convicted Virginia on, and it's a lie!"
After four weeks of proceedings, on September 20, Jason was acquitted. He sank his head into his hands and wept. His mother, meanwhile, was just months away from death row.
The first thing Virginia Larzelere heard on that May morning, as she breathed in the sterile air of X Dorm at Broward County Correctional, were the howls. Aileen Wuornos, eyes wide and hair stringy and unwashed, pressed her face against the glass of her cell and watched Larzelere glide past. Then Wuornos, who had been convicted of killing six men and was later immortalized in the 2003 Hollywood film Monster, began to grin. Death row had a new member.
"Hello! Hello!" Wuornos bellowed at Larzelere and dissolved into laughter. "How are you? How are you?" Then, as if in a dog kennel, the mania infected the other four women on death row, and they all rose and looked out from behind the plexiglass.
"Hello!" shouted Florida's Black Widow, Judy Buenoano, who killed her husband and son with arsenic.
"What took you so long?" boomed Ana Maria Cardona, who tortured and killed her son.
"Are you OK?" queried Andrea Hicks Jackson, who shot a cop six times after he tried to arrest her in 1983.
Larzelere ducked inside cell eight, found a new set of clothing, and crumpled on the bed, weeping. "I can't believe this is happening," she remembers sobbing into the pillow. "I can't believe this is happening."
Her disbelief wasn't unwarranted. If the tragedy of Virginia Larzelere shows anything, it is just how terrifyingly easy it is to be wrongfully convicted. Once an investigation starts moving in a certain direction, almost nothing can stop it. Little things, like the fact that Detective Dave Gamell jotted down Virginia and Jason's names as suspects within days of the murder, can balloon into confirmation bias. And that bias, not to mention the desire for a conviction, can blot out key problems in any case — like evidence exposing a lying witness.
There would almost be a dark, tragicomic air to it if this didn't happen so often. Quantitatively speaking, Florida has the worst capital justice system in the nation, having exonerated more people than any other state since 1973. The next worst is Illinois, which abolished the death penalty in 2011 after freeing 20 people, four fewer than Florida. (Illinois had found too much room for error.) Texas, by means of comparison, has exonerated only 12 death row inhabitants. To make matters worse, "In Florida, circumstantial evidence like [that presented in] Virginia's trial can put a needle in your arm," says Orange County Judge Marc Lubet.
After the state Supreme Court rejected her appeal in 1996, Virginia Larzelere thought that would happen to her too. But then she received a letter from West Palm Beach private investigator Gary McDaniel. The hulking and irascible detective had scoured every scrap of testimony in her case and thought Larzelere was innocent.
The author did his research and for editorial reasons did not to share writers private investigative results which identify the perpetrators their motives and relationships with witness Palmieri and the late Steven Heidle. Virginia Larzelere is provable an innocent person as the evidence proves. The opinions and facts have been shared with enforcement and prosecutors. Only to fall on deaf hears. They were known to the defenders of Virginia Larzelere and plead by Virginia's only advocate defender attorney Harry Brody, before Brody entered private practice. Based on the Brody pleadings the court ordered an evidence hearing on the 'ineffective assistance' and 'prove of innocence claims. The quoted lawyer David Henry and subordinates that replaced Brody made a decisions based on economics to use only writers ineffective assistance evidence and testimony. They prevented writer from attesting to the 'prove of innocence' evidence that impeaches the states theory of the murder and proves Heidle and Palmieri lied to cover up a relationship they shared with the perpetrators and others involved in teh day time burglary of the Office of Dr. Norman Larzelere.
Writer solved this murder by investigating the states evidence. The state identified Heidle and Palmieri as the persons that had possession and control of the weapons recovered in the river. These witnesses took authorities to the weapons after admitting they had encased them in concrete. The State with held the fact from the jury that Palmieri and Heidle told conflicting stories as to the origin and storage of the weapons before being disposed. Palmeri attested on a private statement to the prosecution team the weapons had been were stored in the Heidle home attic with a ski mask. Heidle attested they were stored in the home by Virginia and Jason. The conflicting stories were with held from the Grand Jury and because these witnesses consistently told conflicting and unbelievable stories the Orlando State attorney office kept no court reporter record of the grand jury. As the author of the article was told if a member of the original grand jury came forward the conflicts could be proven and Virginia would be free once the misconduct was exposed. In the alternative the state could expend approximately 500.00 and 40 investigative hours to take confessions or simple grant Palmieri immunity once again to tell the truth.
As to the surviving sons and children of Virginia and Norman Larzelere they deserve to see justice served. As a reader answer the question where does one go with prove of innocence and evidence that identifies persons that committed the murder of Norman Larzelere and stole more then 90 weapons that were sold to street person and reportedly used in at least one other murder and criminal activity?
Unusually poor reporting by the New Times. I lived near Edgewater when Dr. Norman Larzelere was killed and I followed the case closely. Thanks to the internet there is still a wide amount of material available for review.
She was found guilty of masterminding the plot, and as the mastermind faced the same penalty--death--as any actual first-degree murderer. Funny how you forget that fact in your article.
You glossed over the resentencing. She is no longer on death row. You did note that she is actually up for parole in a couple years but still, your headline does not reflect that development.
And you did not include tons of other available pieces of evidence easily available for all to see. Her first husband was shot 4 times and they never caught the shooter. Second husband, who was a cop, felt like he was set up by her to be shot and the last husband was shot & killed. Sorry, where there is smoke there is fire.
I especially like her own words here where she laments she has not seen her son Jason or her daughter Jessica in over a decade. Why didn't she comment on her other children, David and Benjamin? Dr. Larzelere was their biological father. Doesn't she miss them too?
Do you guys ever read the stories you right? This isn't a case of a failed justice system. But a case of poor judgment on her behalf. Why would you keep an incompetent lawyer? Who cares if it is a family friend a public defender would have been better in this case.
Incredible article (and well written). Nicely done. One thing I don't get (and maybe I missed it as I was watching Jose Fernandez pitch his final game of the season while reading this), was that if Heidle was the shooter, did he have any motive? Or was he just supposedly a violent and sadistic jerk?
Incredible article (and well written). Nicely done. One thing I don't get (and maybe I missed it as I was watching Jose Fernandez pitch his final game of the season while reading this), was that if Heidle was the shooter, did he have any motive?
@CybrdoogieThanks for your comment. This story was based on court records, police documents, and concrete charges. The claims you've mentioned never merited a single charge, and, as such, weren't of much consequence to this story. Virginia Larzelere is no longer on death row, correct. We mentioned that fact within the first 500 words of the story -- and again at the end. Much appreciation for your reading.
@FatHand There was no motive, he was just introduced as a suspect in Jason's trial to show that they didn't ID the shooter as Jason for sure. It wouldn't have been useful in Virginia's trial, since she was convicted of hiring someone to murder her husband. Whether she hired her son Jason or Steven is the "reasonable doubt" that they used to get Jason off the hook, but Virginia was still involved in both those scenarios.
I am sorry but the title of the article is pretty disingenuous. Yes, you did commment on her no longer being on death row but the title of the article does not reflect that development. You interviewed Virginia a few times for the article and could have easily asked her about the shooting of her first husband as well as the situation with the second husband. There are numerous newspaper articles widely available on the net referencing both situations. Didn't you do any research before writing this piece?
Instead of an objective article, your article sounds like a fluff piece demanding action for a wrongly-convicted woman. Virginia Larzelere is anything but that.
I would be interested if she mentioned David and Benjamin to you at all during your interviews. If not, like I said--very telling.