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Last NameFirst NamePictureDC NumberAgencyCase Summary
CoxRobert Craig 113377 Case Summary

Last Action

DateCourtCase NumberLast Action
12/21/1989  Released

Current Attorney


Last Updated

2008-01-09 11:43:13.0

Case Summary
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COX, Robert Craig (W/M)

DC# 113377

DOB: 10/06/59


Ninth Judicial Circuit, Orange County, Case # CR88-364

Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Richard F. Conrad

Trial Attorneys: Patricia Cashman & Kelly Sims,Assistant Public Defenders

Attorney, Direct Appeal: Larry B. Henderson, AssistantPublic Defender



Date of Offense:         12/30/78

Date of Sentence        10/06/88


Circumstances of the Offense:


On 12/30/78, 19-year-old Sharon Zellers disappeared afterleaving work at Walt Disney World. On 1/3/79, her abandoned car was discoveredin an orange grove in Orange County. The following day, her body was discoveredfully submerged in a sewage lift station located in close proximity to theorange grove. Ms. Zellers’ body was heavily decomposed, and she was identifiedby her dental records. A medical examiner testified that she died from bluntforce trauma to the head and reported that she had received 14 separate headwounds. Despite Ms. Zellers’ injuries, the examiner reported that she probablylived 20-30 minutes subsequent to the attack.


The law enforcement investigation led detectives to questionRobert C. Cox. Cox and his parents, who lived in California, were vacationingin Orlando. They were staying at a Days Inn, which was located 340 feet fromthe sewage lift station where Ms. Zellers’ body was discovered. Cox’s motherhad called the hotel security on 12/30/78, because her son had returned to themotel and was bloody around the face and mouth. A portion of his tongue hadbeen severed off, and he was unable to talk and had to communicate by writing.Cox then passed out and was transported to the emergency room by an ambulance.Emergency surgery was performed on Cox to repair his damaged tongue.


Cox made a statement to officers on 1/19/78, two weeks afterthe incident, and claimed that he was injured during a fight at the localskating rink, Skate World. He stated that there was a fight involving of eightpeople, four blacks and four whites, outside of the skating rink. Cox claimedthat after he was hit in the face, he bit his own tongue. He claimed that hethen got into his own car and left the scene. He claimed that he could not findthe hotel, so he went back to Skate World, where a Good Samaritan picked him upand dropped him off at the hotel.


Detectives found three loose hairs in the victim’s car thatwere consistent with Cox’s chest hair, and type-O blood, which is the same typeas Cox’s but not the victim’s.


A military-type boot print was discovered inside Ms.Zellers’ car. Cox was in the U.S. Army at the time of his arrest and waswearing that type of boot when treated at the hospital. A match, however, wasnever made linking the two prints together.


The State claimed that, although the evidence wascircumstantial, it pointed to Cox as the perpetrator. The State argued thatCox’s claim that he was in a fight at Skate World was not credible and couldnot be corroborated by any of the security personnel who were working thatevening. There were no eyewitnesses who could support Cox’s alibi. On appeal,the State argued that Cox’s statement that, after being injured, he left therink in his own car in search of his hotel was not true. Medical evidence waspresented that an artery in Cox’s tongue had been severed, and he was bleedingprofusely from the mouth. There was a trail of blood at the Days Inn leadingfrom the second floor to the third floor. There was, however, no blooddiscovered in Cox’s vehicle. Type-O blood, Cox’s blood type, was discovered inMs. Zellers’ car. The State acknowledged that 45 percent of the population hastype-O blood; therefore, the discovery of this type of blood in the victim’scar did not automatically prove that Cox was the murderer.  It did, however,prove that Ms. Zellers’ murderer was injured and lost blood in her car prior toher death.


A surgical assistant testified at trial that the injury toCox’s tongue was more consistent with someone other than himself biting off histongue because of the shape of the wound and the ragged tear. The defensebrought up the fact that the missing portion of Cox’s tongue was not discoveredin the victim’s mouth or near the victim. The State countered that the victim’sbody was severely decomposed as a result of being submerged in human waste;therefore, the tongue may not have been able to be discovered.


Additional Information:


Cox was indicted in Florida nine years after the commissionof the offense. At the time of the indictment, Cox was serving a nine-yearsentence in California for Kidnapping and two separate counts of Assault with aDeadly Weapon. Circumstances of the offenses are as follows;


In August of 1985, a young girl named Kathleen Boice arrivedat her house in Crestview California. As she exited her vehicle, Cox, who wasfollowing her, jumped from his car, grabbed the victim, threw her to theground, placed a seven-inch knife to her throat and told her, “Go with me,don’t scream or I’ll kill you.” During this scuffle, the knife cut the victim’shand.


In December of 1985, a young woman, Gidget Wickam, wasstationed with the U.S. Army at Fort Ord, California. Ms. Wickam went to theairport to retrieve luggage and, as she was leaving the airport, Cox, who askedher for a ride to the base, confronted her. She complied and, en route, Coxdrew a firearm on Ms. Wickham and told her they were not driving to the basebut driving to the mountains.


Trial Summary:


12/15/87          Florida detainer lodged against defendantwhile incarcerated in California.

01/22/88          Arrest warrant issued.

02/25/88          Defendant indicted:

Count I: Murder inthe First Degree

09/30/88          Upon advisory recommendation, the juryrecommended death by a 7-5


10/06/88          Defendant sentenced as follows

                        Count I: Murder in the First Degree


Appeal Summary:


Florida Supreme Court, Direct Appeal

FSC# 73,150

555 So. 2d 352


10/06/88          Appeal filed

03/10/89          Initial brief filed.

06/08/99          State’s answer brief filed

07/11/89          Defendant’s reply brief filed.

12/21/89          FSC reversed conviction, vacated thesentence and directed that defendant

be acquitted.

02/12/90          Rehearing denied.

02/23/90          Mandate issued.


Case Information:


On 03/10/89, the defendant filed his Direct Appeal initialbrief, which included the following claims of trial court error: the evidencewas legally insufficient to support a conviction; improper excusal of twoprospective jurors; the State failed to try Cox for the offense within 180 daysand did not indict until nine years after the murder thereby violating thedefendant’s due process and preventing him from conducting a properinvestigation; and, that Cox’s due process was violated regarding otherevidentiary matters.


The Florida Supreme Court unanimously agreed that there wasinsufficient evidence to support the verdict and commented that, although theState’s evidence would have created a reasonable suspicion, the case was notproven beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court stated the evidence did not provethat Cox, and only Cox, murdered the victim. The Court then vacated Cox’s deathsentence, reversed his conviction and remanded to the trial court to enter anorder of acquittal for the crime.



Law Enforcement/ Prosecution Statements:

Former Assistant State Attorney and current Circuit CourtJudge Frederick J. Lauten wrote:

Jeff Ashton and Iprosecuted Robert Cox together.  The case was ten years old when I wassent to California by Robert Egan to speak to Cox to see if he would plead tofirst-degree murder if we waived the death penalty. He would not.

Blood stains found on a floor matwere sent to a new DNA lab to determine if DNA was present.  A preliminaryreport indicated that DNA could be obtained so we took a sample of blood fromRobert Cox.  The lab reported that the sample from the floor mat lackedeven molecular weight for the lab to report a match and maintain the standardsestablished for accuracy and reliability.  The lab confirmed that theblood type on the mats matched Cox's blood type, which was evidence we alreadyhad.  Jeff and I reviewed the case thoroughly and felt that we had enoughcircumstantial evidence to establish that Cox committed the murder andindicted him.

Nineteen-year-old Sharon Zellerswent to work at Walt Disney World on December 30, 1978.  She had a habitof informing her parents by telephone of everywhere she went. She was unusuallydiligent about calling her parents.  At the end of her work shift, shecalled her parents to tell them she was going to meet some friends forbreakfast. She promised to call when she left the restaurant; however, shenever called.  Her father left home and began driving around town to lookfor her. 

At the same time, Robert Coxappeared at a hotel where his parents were staying, the Day's Inn on Sandlake Road.  He was bleeding profusely from the mouth and a deputy sheriff wascalled to take a report. Eventually, Cox was taken to surgery for the injury tohis tongue.  That night, through his father, he gave a statement to thepolice, and he also gave another statement directly to the police. He told themthat he had been at an ice-skating rink on Highway 50 near Kirkman, and as hewas leaving, had been sucker punched by a group of white and black young menand had bitten his tongue off. Rather than return to the ice skating rinkto seek help from the police officer he had walked past seconds ago, hereported that he got in his car and drove around looking for a hospital, andunable to find one, returned to the parking lot of the Albertson's grocerystore, right next to the skating rink. At that time, some good Samaritan pickedhim up, bleeding like mad, and drove him the Sand Lake Day's Inn and simplydropped him in the parking lot and left him there to find his parentsroom!  The same night, his father accompanied a deputy back to the car atAlbertson's so his dad could drive it back to the hotel.  The deputy whotook the report went with Cox's father and looked inside the car for evidenceand discovered that not one single drop of blood was present, even though Coxhimself was bleeding like crazy when he found him at the hotel.

Five days after her disappearance,Sharon Zellers’ body was found in a sewage lift station. That station was nomore than 300 yards from the Day's Inn.  Her body was unrecognizablebecause it had been in water and feces, which was pumped down a pipe to a rawsewage station, located further east on Sand Lake Road. Her car was found20 yards away with blood in it, a boot print, and hair samples, all of whichmatched Robert Cox.  The back seat of the car was missing and to this dayhas never been found.

As the case proceeded to trial,during discovery, a surgical nurse was identified who assisted in the surgeryto the injury to Cox's tongue. She had never been interviewed before, but whenfinally interviewed by Jeff and me she testified that on the night of thesurgery she and the surgeon were told how Cox had injured his tongue (suckerpunched at the ice- skating rink) but that the shape of the injury to thetongue was inconsistent with that type of injury and consistent with his havinghis tongue bitten off by someone else. For example, while it was in theirmouth!

At trial, we presented thetestimony of the detective who found the car in Albertson's without any bloodin it despite the statement from Cox that he had driven around injured in thecar; the testimony from the surgeon, that profuse amounts of blood would havebeen lost by Cox until he received surgery;  the testimony of the nurse I justreferred to; testimony of blood experts that the blood in Sharon Zellers’ carmatched Cox's blood type; testimony from a hair expert that the hair found inthe car was consistent with the characteristics of his hair; testimony from awitness that the boot print found in the car was consistent with the kind ofsole worn by Army Ranger's at that time (Cox was an army ranger). 

The jury deliberated at length andfound Cox guilty of murder in the first degree. At the sentencing hearing, weflew in two women from California who Cox had kidnapped at eitherknifepoint or gunpoint. They testified to the terror of their kidnapping byCox. The jury recommended death 7 to 5 and Judge Conrad imposed the deathpenalty.

TheFlorida Supreme Court held that the evidence in Cox's case was circumstantialand did not preclude every reasonable hypothesis of innocence and entered ajudgment of acquittal. Cox was returned to California to serve out theremainder of his sentence for the kidnappings. Eventually he was paroled and afew years later committed a series of armed robberies in Texas where he wassentenced to life in prison.


JeffAshton, Assistant State Attorney wrote that he agreed with Judge Lauten’srecitation of the case and added that Cox is presently serving a 35-year Stateand a consecutive 15-year Federal sentence out of Texas.

DetectiveDan Nazarchuk (retired) of the Orlando County Sheriff’s Office was one of theinvestigators on the Cox case. He stated that he believes very strongly thatRobert Cox committed this murder. He claimed there were never any othersuspects and stated that he feels the jury reached thecorrect verdict. 

Defense Attorney Statements:


A request for comment and a copy of this report was sent todefense attorney, Patricia Cashman. Ms. Cashman provided the followingstatement regarding Cox’s case:

“This case is one of two unanimous reversals in deathpenalty cases by the Florida Supreme Court. A wrongful conviction occurred andthe appellate court released Mr. Cox after he spent 18 months on death row.”


Defendant’s Current Status:


In 1995, Cox was arrested for holding a gun on a 12-year-oldgirl in Decatur, Texas. He is presently serving a life sentence for thatrobbery and a consecutive 15-year federal sentence.



Report Date:   03/19/02          WHS