Death penalty sought in sword homicide of pregnant woman

Liz Evans Scolforo

York County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for a Jackson Township man accused of killing his pregnant wife with a sword.

John D. Ziegler III, 31, was arraigned Friday on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree murder of an unborn child, third-degree murder and third-degree murder of an unborn child, according to court records. His next scheduled court appearance is an Aug. 9 pretrial conference before presiding Common Pleas Judge Harry Ness.

Diana and John Ziegler
(Facebook photo)

The York County District Attorney's Office on Friday filed a notice of intention to seek the death penalty, according to Kyle King, spokesman for the DA's office.

The filing cited two aggravating circumstances, he said. First, that he "knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person" while killing wife Diana Ziegler, and second, that he knew his wife was in her third trimester of pregnancy at the time of her death.

Defense attorney Jay Abom described the case as tragic.

"Given the abundant signs and symptoms of very serious mental-health issues, Mr. Ziegler is sad and disappointed that the district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty," he said.

Abom said the death penalty "should be saved for the worst of the worst."

He declined to discuss whether he will seek a defense of mental infirmity.

'Hybrid humans': Ziegler told Northern York County Regional Police detectives he killed his pregnant wife with a sword because she was the "queen bee" of a race of hybrid humans that was taking over the world, according to testimony from his March 17 preliminary hearing.

"(He said) he needed to destroy her to save the world," Northern Regional Police Detective Mark Baker testified, adding that Ziegler also told him that "he thought he did the right thing."

Ziegler called 911 shortly after 4 p.m. Jan. 27 and announced he'd killed 25-year-old Diana Ziegler, police have said. She was six months pregnant with the couple's second child, testimony indicated — a daughter they planned to name Charlotte.

Responding officers found her dead on the back deck of the couple's 1157 Ledge Drive home in Jackson Township.

Dallastown Nursing Center staff attend a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their co-worker Diana Ziegler, 25, at Stone Ledge Park near her home in Jackson Township, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Police say Ziegler, who was 24 weeks pregnant and expecting a girl, was attacked and killed by her husband, John Ziegler III, on Friday. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Scimitar-style sword: She'd suffered multiple blows to her head and neck, delivered by a scimitar-style sword that was 4 inches wide, charging documents state. Police said they found the victim's blood and skull fragments on the deck.

John Ziegler was arrested at the scene. He remains in York County Prison without bail.

Neighbors hold vigil for slain Jackson Twp. mother

Baker, the lead investigator in the double homicide case, testified that he interviewed John Ziegler for about an hour and described the man as anxious and upset.

"He said multiple times that Diana didn't deserve it," Baker said, even though the man also said he believed he'd done the right thing.

John Ziegler told the detective that he'd been feeling "off" for several months.

Changing the weather: The alleged murderer also said he believed he could change the weather by changing his emotions, then explained that he watched snowflakes start to fall and then stop falling as his emotions fluctuated, according to the detective.

"His interview with me was really all over the place," Baker said, but he noted the defendant had no trouble remembering what he'd done and was able to answer questions coherently.

"He thought it was a big conspiracy," the detective testified. "He said he thought everything would change with the election of Donald Trump."

Police: Jackson Twp. man said he killed his wife to 'save the world'

He didn't appear to be angry at Diana Ziegler about anything and kept saying things like, "I can't believe what I did" and "She didn't deserve this," according to Baker.

The Zieglers' 2-year-old son was home when his mother was killed, and he was unhurt, according to police.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.