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?"

Virginia Larzelere smiles at her defense attorney, Jack Wilkins, during a pause in her 1992 trial.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Virginia Larzelere smiles at her defense attorney, Jack Wilkins, during a pause in her 1992 trial.
Norman Larzelere
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Norman Larzelere

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 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.

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10 comments
jpmorgan3
jpmorgan3

I believe Terrence McCoy is the fruit cake here.  Terrence,  she really is guilty. Life without parole.

leejean21
leejean21

This woman is not a victim of injustice.  She had an incestuous relationship with her son and used him to kill her husband.  The ONLY reason her son is not in jail is because his face was covered and there was not enough evidence to show that he was the shooter beyond a reasonable doubt.  Eye witnesses at the crime scene all heard the victim call out his step son's name before he died(i.e.Jason is that you? Jason!), and they testified that she began to press her mouth to his, so he could not get any more words out. Not to mention she gave the murder weapon to her house staff and told them to clean it and dispose of it. She is disgusting and belongs where she is.

CheckpointCharlie73
CheckpointCharlie73

Most criminal defense attorneys do tons of drugs, drink like fish, and are involved with court personnel if they can, and are usually robbing some client or another. This guy was a typical lawyer. Additionally, if he was screwing the court reporter, that could only help his client, since she could interpret the transcript in the client's favor. 


jamjamaa
jamjamaa

What the hell is a "nude bottle club"?

Kzm Ufc
Kzm Ufc

That status sounds an awful lot like government and religion.

cooperschuler
cooperschuler

just as Carol implied I am startled that anybody able to make $5040 in 1 month on the computer. find more information == > w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

Betty Perez
Betty Perez

And yet the smell of a dead body in the trunk of a pathological mother whose missing daughter was later found dead was too circumstantial. Oh yeah Florida...

Chard Beauregarde
Chard Beauregarde

Not an actual like, but an upvote of support for this to be seen.

jenkemjones
jenkemjones

@leejean21 I think she and her son belong in an unmarked grave near their place of execution.  The witnesses saw Jason do it but the jury was told to ignore that because Jason wore a mask.

leejean21
leejean21

@Chard Beauregarde Larzelere is guilty. She confessed to her personal assistant and house staff at the time and they advised police that she made them clean and dump the murder weapon (which was found where they said it would be). Also, she took out 2.1 million in life insurance policies on her husband and called to make sure they were payable days before his murder.

 
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