Insanity defense for York County man accused of murdering pregnant wife

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A Jackson Township man accused of murdering his pregnant wife with a scimitar-style sword was suffering from psychosis at the time, according to a court filing by his defense attorneys.

John D. Ziegler III, 32, remains in York County Prison without bail, charged with first- and third-degree murder, as well as first- and third-degree murder of an unborn child.

Diana and John Ziegler
(Facebook photo)

In May 2017, the York County District Attorney's Office filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty if Ziegler is convicted.

On Monday, March 19, defense attorneys Jay Abom and Brian Platt filed in York County Court their notice of intention to offer a defense of insanity or mental infirmity, according to the filing.

It states that Dr. Susan Rushing will provide expert testimony that Ziegler "was insane at the time of the incident and suffering from mental disease or defect including but not limited to psychosis, beginning prior to January 27, 2017, and continuing thereafter."

Rushing is a psychiatrist on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania who treats patients at her private practice in Haverford, Montgomery County, and performs forensic evaluations for judges and attorneys, according to her website.

Abom has previously told The York Dispatch that there were "abundant signs and symptoms of very serious mental-health issues" in Ziegler.

'Hybrid humans': Ziegler told Northern York County Regional Police detectives he killed his pregnant wife, Diana Ziegler, 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 preliminary hearing in March 2017.

"(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, 2017, 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 Diana Ziegler dead on the back deck of the couple's Ledge Drive home.

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.

Diana Ziegler, allegedly killed by her husband John Ziegler III in January, 2016, is honored at a tribute concert to raise awareness for domestic violence on Jan 5, 2018.

John Ziegler was arrested at the scene. 

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.

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

More:Death penalty sought in sword homicide of pregnant woman

More:Neighbors hold vigil for slain Jackson Twp. mother

Changing the weather: The accused 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.

John Ziegler III

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

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.