‘This court cannot pretend’: Judge sets precedent, upholds dead woman’s guilty conviction

SANFORD, Fla. — A Seminole County judge appeared to make a historic ruling Friday, announcing that she would uphold a woman’s guilty convictions even after being told the woman died.


The Hon. Donna M. Goerner, who took the bench in the 18th circuit in 2021, called a case status hearing after being informed on Saturday that Shona Wallace passed away. Wallace was convicted by a jury in March for a 2019 DUI crash that killed 17-month-old Adalyn Zisa and permanently disabled the girl’s father.

Wallace’s attorneys argued during the hearing that because she was never sentenced, the entire case should be removed from the record, including the conviction.

However, neither they nor the prosecution, which wanted the judge to keep the case on the written record, could come up with a precedent that Goerner appeared to be comfortable with.

Read: Woman found guilty of DUI crash that killed baby girl dies before sentencing

After allowing Zisa’s mother and grandmother to give victim’s impact statements, in which both pleaded with her to keep the case on the record, Goerner ultimately relied on the technicality that no one filed a death certificate or a written notice of death with her, and said she continued to have authority over the case.

She adjudicated Wallace guilty on four counts and accepted a request by prosecutors to drop a fifth minor charge.

“This court will not pretend… it didn’t happen,” Goerner ruled, after overruling the defense’s request to strike the family’s statements from the record. “The court has no idea why this case wasn’t tried until 2024, but it has been tried… This court cannot pretend as Shannon cannot pretend.”

Read: Jury finds woman who killed baby girl in 2019 DUI crash guilty on all counts

Goerner also called current precedent “antiquated,” saying it did not offer the victims of a crime enough rights. Her ruling addressed complaints by the family that the lengthy trial process – including the 48 days it took for Wallace to be arrested after the crash and delays for Wallace’s mysterious injuries and illnesses during the trial – failed them.

She said sentencing would move forward unless she received a written notice of death, in which case the case would stop. Wallace’s attorneys will continue to have the right to appeal the conviction on her behalf.

“I believe wholeheartedly that on Saturday, she faced the ultimate judge,” Shannon Zisa said, of Wallace. “Nothing will ever undo what happened, but I think this is as close to justice as I’m going to get. I am incredibly grateful that the judge ruled the way that she did and allowed this to go on record.”

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