A Medford man who stabbed another man to death in May 2010 was sentenced to 10 years in prison Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
Judge Lorenzo Mejia dismissed the state's murder charges against Daniel Tony Lawrence, 20, then accepted his Measure 11 plea agreement for the killing of Joseph Matthew Ziegler, 23. Mejia also sentenced Lawrence to 3 years post-prison supervision. The deal was struck by the Jackson County District Attorney's Office and the public defender's office.
Lawrence admitted to stabbing Ziegler on May 21, 2010, during a late-night brawl following an alcohol-fueled party in the 300 block of Bessie Street.
Both men were visiting a house in the 300 block of Bessie Street, where people had gathered for a party, police said. Only four people were left at the house when a fist fight broke out just before 3 a.m.
According to police reports, Ziegler was winning the battle before Lawrence grabbed a serrated kitchen knife and stabbed Ziegler multiple times, Mejia said.
"You stabbed him after he got the better of you," he said.
Police and emergency medical crews rushed to the house, then whisked Ziegler to Rogue Valley Medical Center, where he died a little more than a hour later.
Before a packed courtroom, and prior to his sentencing, Lawrence apologized and asked forgiveness from the victim's family and the court.
"I want to say that I'm sorry," he said.
But Ziegler's family members rejected the brief apology, sought Biblical justice and repeatedly called Lawrence a coward in their statements to the court.
Ziegler's younger sister asked that Lawrence suffer the same fate as her brother — to die violently and alone.
"My family got no phone call," Britnee Ziegler said. "No chance to tell him how much he was loved. I pray my brother haunts him."
Ziegler's father, Sheldon Ziegler, called the legal system an embarrassment and said Lawrence deserved the death penalty for his crimes.
"When you take someone's life, it should be an eye for an eye," he said. "Why would anyone turn a coward like that free after 10 years?"
Court records show both Ziegler and Lawrence have past felony convictions.
Lawrence pleaded guilty to third-degree robbery two months prior to the killing. Third-degree theft and disorderly conduct charges from the same case, dating to November, were dismissed. That case listed his address as Palm Springs, Calif.
Ziegler's criminal record dated back to 2005, when he was convicted of felony attempting to elude police in a vehicle and recklessly endangering another after a high-speed chase in southeast Medford with a group of other teenagers in his car. He also was convicted of first-degree theft in 2008, according to Jackson County Court records, which also show several evictions last year, a small-claims case and a restraining order against him in March by a former girlfriend.
Ziegler's mother, Rosette Ziegler, said her son was not perfect. But he was loved. She said her family has been destroyed by Lawrence's "cowardly" act. The mother also prayed Lawrence would "be haunted for the rest of his miserable, worthless life," she said.
The last time she saw her son, he was in his coffin, she said, "his skin so cold."
After the Ziegler family called for vengeance, Mejia noted the excessive use of alcohol at the party and said that is what led to the killing. The judge urged the loved ones and family members to "put aside your justifiable anger, because it will consume you if you do not."
Lawrence's friends and family members declined to comment during the sentencing hearing or afterward. Tensions remained high as police escorted the two families from the courtroom, and kept them separated outside the justice building.