Charges of murder and aggravated murder against Walter Zimbeck, the man accused of the 1984 murder of teenager Lori Ann Hill, have been dismissed by Scott Haselman, Fulton County prosecuting attorney.
Haselman released a statement announcing the decision Monday morning.
After a mistrial was declared in the July trial of Zimbeck, Haselman said prosecutors spoke with the jurors.
“After having had an opportunity to fully consider the information that was provided by the jurors, I have concluded that the case should be dismissed at this time,” Haselman said.
“The American criminal justice system is, by nature, set up so that 10 guilty people go free so that one innocent person is not wrongly convicted.
“That is why 12 jurors must unanimously conclude, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is guilty of the crime charged.
“In that regard, the information provided to the Fulton County prosecutor’s offi ce by the various jurors we have spoken with has caused me to conclude that, while a majority of the members of any future jury would, in all likelihood, and in a manner similar to the original trial, vote to convict the defendant of Miss Hill’s murder, the chances of another ‘hung jury’ are so significant that a retrial of this matter should not be undertaken at this time.”
The case was dismissed “without prejudice.”
That means Haselman can refile the charges at a later date “if circumstances dictate, since there is no statute of limitations on murder.”
Gregory VanGunten, attorney for Zimbeck, said his client “is quite glad” about the decision to dismiss, but, “he hopes authorities do not turn their back on the idea someone besides him committed this murder, and attempt to use the DNA they have, to come up with some kind of a match.”
VanGunten said, “The case is over.
“The Hill family is probably a little upset over the state’s choice here, and we can understand that.”
Zimbeck was arrested at his home in Strawberry Plains, Tenn., on July 20, 2009.
Of the three years since the arrest, VanGunten said Zimbeck has spent about 18 months back in Ohio in connection with the charges against him.
He will return to Tennessee, where he operates a commercial-residential remodeling business.
He has a daughter, whom he has been away from for many, many months, with the exception of a few visits.– David Pugh