Troubled past, tragic future

Sun Staff

SIXTEEN DAYS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, Donna Dukes hears aknock at the door of her Centreville apartment. She's expecting company, soshe doesn't check the peephole before opening the door.

It's Frank Zito again - only Dukes, a 49-year-old housekeeper, doesn' tknow it's him. To her he's the stranger in the knit cap who came to her placean hour earlier, looking for one of her neighbors. He made her uncomfortablethe first time, and now that he's back, Dukes is uneasy.

"What's your name?" he asks.

There's something unsettling about the man. He's 6 feet tall and unshaven,with heavy eyelids and large ears that don't lie flat. But it's not really hisappearance that puts Dukes on guard: It's the way he stares at her. Shedoesn't want him to know her name, but she worries that she'll set him off ifshe doesn't tell him.

"Donna," she answers.

The man pulls the cap off his head, as if trying to be polite, leaving hishair in disarray. He takes a step forward. She makes up a story - herdaughter's on the phone, she has to go - and shuts the door.

She watches through the peephole until he walks away.

A few nights later, Dukes comes home around 10:30 and finds a tiny piece ofpaper covered with writing stuck in her door.

"Dear Donna, I was so impressed to meet you. I'd like you to consider megoing out with you, or taking you out or maybe your girlfriend too, both ofyou. I think I like you a lot." There is a phone number and directions to theman's trailer. "Just stop by ... Please!"

The note is signed "Frank Zito."

It takes a minute to register, but when she realizes Zito was the man ather door, Dukes feels sick - and violated. What right does he have to intrudeon her life this way? And how can she prevent it from happening again?

Dukes is hardly the first person in town to ask those questions. Zito, a41-year-old Centreville resident with a severe mental illness and a history ofresisting treatment, has rattled countless people - many of them women - withhis actions and words. And tonight won't be the first time that a citizenupset by Zito's behavior will turn to the Centreville Police Department forprotection and help.

Two young patrolmen respond to Dukes' call, including Officer MichaelNickerson, the department's newest hire, on the job just over a week.According to Dukes, the officers suggest she not sleep in her apartment alonethat night. Told she has no place else to go, the policemen say they'll patrolher parking lot. They also advise her to seek a court order to keep Zito awayfrom her. Finally, at 1 in the morning, according to Nickerson's report, thetwo officers "located Frank Zito on Chesterfield Ave. and advised him not tohave any contact with Dukes."

But Dukes is still frightened. The next day, she talks with Police ChiefBenjamin Cohey, who lets her know that despite Zito's repeated and unwanteddisplays of attention to women, he has never done anything to hurt those hepursues.

Twelve days before Zito is charged with shooting and killing two people,Dukes finds the chief's words reassuring.

YOU DON'T HAVE TO GO FAR in Centreville to find someone who knew FrankZito. He was as much a fixture in this town of 2,200 as the bronze statue ofQueen Anne on the lawn of the courthouse square, and - it seemed for years -just as immovable. No matter how many times he went away for psychiatrictreatment, he inevitably ended up back home, in the trailer park run by hismother in the neighborhood near the Corsica River known as the Wharf.

Though Zito's off-putting, disruptive behavior wasn't an everydayoccurrence, it had long drawn the attention of local law enforcementofficials. He'd been convicted on misdemeanor charges several times. Butmental illness isn't a crime, and misdemeanor charges aren't murder. Beforethe Feb. 13 shootings, some people would no more have predicted the gunfire atZito's trailer door than they would have expected a pothole in town to open upand swallow a car, or a leaky pipe to unleash a tidal wave. "Crazy Frank" wasa nuisance they had learned to live with, steering around his occasionaloutbursts, plugging the leaks when he seeped into their personal space.

But others - particularly in the neighborhood surrounding his trailer - hadfeared for years that Zito was a disaster waiting to happen. Unnerved by hisunpredictable behavior and exasperated by their inability to control it, theyhad come to wonder if it would take a tragedy for something to change.

Francis M. Zito's future is now a question for the courts to decide, whenand if he's found competent and the case goes to trial. But Zito's past - andhow it might have been different - is something that people in Centreville andelsewhere have struggled to come to terms with for months now. Who couldaccept the fact that nobody had defused a bomb that had been ticking away,sometimes loudly, for the better part of a decade? Who hasn't wondered whatsort of intervention might have prevented the loss of two young lives?

Unfortunately, making sense of Zito's case is difficult, if not impossible,because so much of Zito's history - medical, legal and personal - is stillunknown, and because so many of the people closely involved with his liferefused to comment or provide information for this article. Among them: Zito'smother, Betty, who declined repeated requests for an interview, and hisfather, Pasquale, who cut short a telephone conversation, saying he didn'twant to anger his family by discussing his son. Zito's public defender, StefanR. Skipp, did not return numerous calls, and a letter sent to Zito in jailwent unanswered. Exactly what happened the night of the shootings may notbecome clear until the trial, if at all.

In other words, this account of Zito's past is a puzzle with missingpieces. The pieces here, taken from memories and court records, are bynecessity less about Zito's experiences than the way others experienced Zito,the way one man's behavior affected many people's lives. It's a story thatstarts long ago and far beyond the town limits, where a sign planted by theroadside welcomes visitors to "Historic Centreville: A town with a past and afuture."

Examine the pieces. Try to fit them together. And wonder if the pastforetold a grieving town's future.

MORE THAN 20 YEARS before he is charged with murder, Frank Zito stands onhis bed in Linwood, Pa., holding a sword high above his head. He screams andcharges toward Joe Hansell, chief of police.

Before Zito can get off the bed, the chief jumps up and tackles him,twisting his hand until he lets go of the sword. Zito's father holds Frankdown while Hansell handcuffs him. Frank says he's sorry - that he was justtrying to scare the chief.

Hansell, uninjured, doesn't press charges. He figures the young man'sfamily has enough problems already.

I talked to his father at length one time. He said he does all he can,trying to get Frank to take his medicine. But when you get like that, youdon't want to take it.

The neighborhood back then was a little resigned to him as being an oddcase.

Crazy Frank, some of the neighbors call Zito. Crazy Frank, who'll beremembered for wandering the streets at all hours, hollering and carrying on,taking drugs, talking to himself, staring at people. Yelling "Where's myhouse?" as if he thinks someone has moved it.

It will be years before Zito's home is a trailer in Centreville. Now helives with his parents in a small community 20 miles outside of Philadelphia.Some neighbors are disturbed by Zito's behavior; others are annoyed or simplythink he's strange. He is avoided, taunted, told to go away, arrested, sent toa psychiatric ward, released. Always, it seems, he returns home, to hisparents' rowhouse on Chadwick Avenue.

One day, Patrolman George MacDonald leads Zito away from the house inhandcuffs after he tries to hit his mother. Outside, MacDonald sees neighborson both sides of the street applauding.

NINETEEN AND A HALF YEARS before he is charged with murder, Frank Zitotells a doctor at Haverford State Hospital in Pennsylvania that there is a"war within himself."

Zito, now 22, is diagnosed as having a paranoid personality and a drinkingproblem, along with a history of drug abuse. According to a psychologicalevaluation, Zito dropped out of school in the 11th grade and had planned tojoin the Army.

"Indeed some of the patient's delusionals are of being a soldier,constantly at odds with the enemy," says the report. "In this connection hehas strong, not well suppressed, desires to retaliate for the many years ofsuffering that have been forced upon him. ... That he is a resentful personwith a great deal of underlying rage and hostility cannot be understated.

SEVENTEEN YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, Martin Lauginigertakes over as police chief of the township that includes Linwood. Zito stilllives there, and Lauginiger keeps his eye on him. I had the fear in the backof my mind that he was going to do something drastic one of these days.

The young man seems extremely troubled. He carries railroad spikes in hispockets. When the spikes are taken away, he finds new ones. When Lauginigerasks what the spikes are for, he finds Zito's answer unsettling - somethingabout Christ on the cross.

Lauginiger never expects Zito to harm him or one of his officers. Zito'sparents seem to be the target of his anger. Years later, the chief willremember going to Chadwick Avenue to take Zito to the hospital. We'd show upat the back door and we'd go in. "Frank, I got papers, you gotta go." He'dsay, "Betty, you bitch, you signed these things." "Betty do this, Betty dothat" or "Betty get the hell out of the way."

The mother was very protective of him. The father, he would just flat outsay he's crazy, get him the hell out of the house, he's nuts.

All throughout the 1980s, police in Linwood and surrounding towns contendwith Zito. He is arrested for marijuana possession, simple assault, disorderlyconduct, reckless driving and harassment, among other charges. Only a few ofthe incidents result in convictions. Most charges are withdrawn or dismissed.

Zito's behavior bothers his neighbors, but there's a difference betweenwhat's against the law and what's just annoying. Lauginiger and his officersexplain the boundaries to the neighbors - and to Frank.

We always had complaints from the residents. They'd call up, "Hey, Frank'sover here acting strange."

"What's he doing? Is he doing things to you? Is he making threats?"

"No, he's just acting strange. You know how he is."

Once in a while, he'd be out in the back yard, and he'd have his radioloud. You'd have to maybe convince him a little bit. "Frank, you gotta turnthe damn thing down."

"Well, it's my yard, I can play..."`

"No, you're bothering the people on each side of you. Tell you how tohandle this, Frank. Go get some earphones. Turn it up as loud as you want."

ALMOST 14 YEARS before he is charged with murder, Frank Zito is convictedof assault. The victim, a young man named Tom Crowley, testified that he wassitting on the steps of a patio in Linwood when Zito approached him holding aswitchblade.

Zito didn't use the blade, but the two exchanged words. According toCrowley, Zito grabbed him by the neck and threw him onto the ground.Afterward, seeing Crowley's bloody nose and abrasions, Zito apologized andsaid he hadn't meant to do it. He offered to take Crowley home to "fix thescrapes."

Zito, who pleads no contest, is sentenced to 24 months probation - and nojail time.

Later, Crowley's mother sends a note to the district attorney's office."Our son Tom fears that Mr. Zito will try to harm him again as he threatened,"it says. "He wonders why people like Mr. Zito are allowed to roam thestreets."

NINE YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, a Linwood woman namedDoreen Bateman searches for her beloved golden retriever, feeling certain thatZito - her neighbor - has taken her again. He's untied Brandi or lured her tohis home at least a half dozen times, Bateman guesses.

I think he really liked the dog, that's the funny thing. He'd haveconversations with the dog like it was his. He'd talk about his day. He usedto say, "Can I give the dog a treat?"

Bateman knew Zito long before she moved to Chadwick Avenue in 1987. He wasthe kid in her high school who other students called "Lurch," after thecharacter from the "Addams Family." Bateman remembered Zito walking throughthe corridors singing that he could fly, then jumping from a second-floorrailing. At the time she thought drugs were his problem.

Now she thinks there's more to it. At times, according to Bateman, Zitoacts like he's in his own world, hollering in his back yard as he paintsgraffiti on a metal shed. Sometimes kids pick on him, and in turn, he scaresthem, waving hedge-clippers in their direction as he trims a bush in his yard,or chasing them with a toy gun.

We were always waiting for the day that Frank had a real gun.

We sat out front and watched them take him out in handcuffs so many times.And then we'd turn around and a few days later, there was Frank. How did heever get any help in that short period of time?

She doesn't want him to go to jail - what Zito needs is treatment, Batemanfeels - but she also wants to protect her dog Brandi, who in the past has comeback from Zito's house limping and reeking of beer.

Chief Lauginiger signs an affidavit of probable cause and Zito is chargedwith theft, harassment and cruelty to animals. In court, the case is pairedwith another, in which Zito is charged with exposing himself to a 14-year-oldgirl from the neighborhood.

The cases are delayed for months; at some point, Zito is found incompetentto stand trial. Eventually the public defender files a notice that Zito,suffering from paranoid schizophrenia at the time of the offenses, will pleadinsanity.

Not long after, the cases are dismissed.

A note in the prosecutor's file says: "Defendant moved from area."

MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, Michelleand Robert Waldeck buy the Zitos' rowhouse in Linwood. At settlement theWaldecks hear that Pasquale and Betty Zito are separating, and that Betty Zitois moving away with their son.

Neighbors are grateful. The police chief is relieved. When the Waldecksmove into their new home, they are surprised to find swastikas painted ontheir shed and patio and three knives in the basement rafters.

SEVEN AND A HALF YEARS before he is charged with murder, Frank Zito isconvicted of trespassing in Centreville, the Eastern Shore town where Betty'sfather and siblings - and now Betty and her son - live. Frank is sentenced toprobation for trespassing at the Shore Stop convenience store.

The Shore Stop sits near the heart of the tiny business district known asuptown Centreville. It's across the street from the courthouse and just ashort walk from the hardware store, which is on the same block as the videostore, pizzeria and liquor store, which aren't far from the pharmacy andbookshop, which is down the street from the post office, which is across fromthe market, which are just some of the places in town where Zito will make aname for himself.

Amy Hawkins is the young clerk behind the counter at the Shore Stop the dayZito gets angry because the cigarettes, previously marked down, are fullprice; according to Hawkins, he tries to reach across the counter and grabthem. When Hawkins stops him, Zito makes a scene, cursing and yelling,refusing to leave until someone calls the police.

In the years that follow, Centreville merchants will describe Zito'sconduct in two ways. There will be days when he seems perfectly fine, anordinary customer minding his own business or carrying on normalconversations, and there will be days when he is agitated and belligerent,sweating profusely, pestering the help, pawing through merchandise - days,many people will speculate, when Zito isn't taking his medication.

It won't be a secret in Centreville that Zito has been treated forpsychiatric problems, and some people will feel sorry for him or see him as avictim. But that won't change the fact that they'll have to deal with hisbehavior. Some shopkeepers will bar him from their premises, wanting toprotect employees and put customers at ease. Others will simply hope hedoesn't come in. If he does, they'll keep an eye on him, watching warily untilhe leaves, prepared to sternly send him on his way - or call the police - ifthings get tense.

He doesn't go uptown every day, but when he does, Zito doesn't have tojourney far to get there. He can walk or ride his bike from the trailer park,barely a mile away, where he and his mother live in separate trailers facingone another.

Trailer park is almost too grand a term for the circle of nine homes tuckedat the end of Hammond Street, so unobtrusive that some locals won't even knowthe place exists until two people are shot there.

ABOUT SEVEN YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, Pat Beck goesto a neighborhood meeting to discuss the problems of living near Zito.

When Beck and her two daughters moved from New Jersey to Centreville, thecharming town near the bay seemed like the perfect place to live. She bought ahouse with a screened-in porch at the end of Hammond Street, facing thedriveway that leads to the trailer park.

Everything was fine. And then the new neighbor came.

You knew right away to look at him that something was wrong there and itwasn't good.

Miles away from Linwood, Pa., some of the neighbors' complaints are eerilyfamiliar. Zito carries railroad spikes, bothers dogs, prowls at night, talksto himself, wanders through yards, stares at people, sends children running infear. He peeps into his neighbors' windows and rummages through their trash.He marches down the street, swinging his arms like a soldier. He riflesthrough mailboxes, suspicious that checks have been stolen from his mail. Hesays he has been investigated for the death of President Kennedy.

He had a machete and he would chop on the trees behind his trailer. Hewould rant and rave. You really couldn't tell what he was saying. He was mad,you could tell from the tone of his voice.

Zito doesn't do these things all the time, and not all his neighbors willcomplain about him. One will invite him in for coffee occasionally; anotherwill see him feeding and petting stray cats. But for Beck and others, livingnear Zito means always being on guard. He throws rocks and pinecones in Beck'sswimming pool. He lurks in the field alongside her house. He often leaves whenhe's asked to, but is familiar enough with his neighbors' property lines topoint out when he's technically not trespassing. After Beck's oldest daughter,Kara, gets her driver's license, she becomes a focus of Zito's attention; hemakes a habit of watching for her red Jeep on the main road into theirneighborhood.

He would sit on the concrete wall at the end of the alleyway. When he sawher vehicle come by he would march all the way back toward our house and juststand there and watch her. He would sit on the fence and stare up at herbedroom window.

At the neighborhood meeting, a town officer urges the residents to call thepolice when they see suspicious behavior. The residents heed the advice, andthe presence of an officer is often enough to make Zito stop whatever he'sdoing. But the peace is inevitably temporary.

We thought he was going to end up either really hurting somebody or killingsomebody.

The policemen sympathized with us ... but they all kept saying there'snothing else we can do.

Beck comes to appreciate the reprieves when Zito is hospitalized or goes tojail. But eventually, word gets around - "Frank's back" - and the neighborsare careful again, locking doors, shutting blinds, looking around outside,standing sentry while the kids play tag and kick the can.

Nobody knows unless they live through this all these years. So many times Ithought of moving. My problem was, who do you sell your house to? Someone elsewith small children, and tell them there is this crazy man in the neighborhoodwho might hurt your kids? Or do you not tell them, and something happens andyou have to live with that the rest of your life? It was easier to stay andtry to deal with it.

Eventually, Beck asks police to issue a no-trespassing order to get Zito tostop following her daughter home - and he does.

But Kara's fear of Zito will never go away. A week before Zito is chargedwith murder, Kara - now 25, with a 6-month-old baby - drives to her parents'house for a visit and sees Zito standing near the driveway. Afraid to leavethe car, she calls the house on her cell phone and asks her father to come outand get her.

SIX YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, Janice Harper, herhusband and three children move out of the house on Hammond Street wherethey've lived for 10 years.

Zito isn't the only reason they're moving, but he's definitely one of them.

He wasn't a violent man. He was a haunted man. That's the word I want touse. He was agitated. He was upset. He was going around muttering all the timeand doing weird stuff, talking to trash and lining up quarters and pretendingto shoot them. I can relate to that because my Mom did bizarre things. Shethought people from outer space were coming to get her.

Her mother's mental illness helps Harper understand Zito's behavior.Delusions, sleepless nights, paranoia, even playing loud music were all partof her mother's disease. She was a very loving woman, but during that manicphase she was dangerous - every bit as dangerous as Frank if people didn'twatch her.

Harper was never one to wonder why Zito wasn't institutionalized. She knowsfrom personal experience what Frank's mother might be up against: short-termhospital stays, laws that make it difficult to commit an adult against hiswill unless he is a clear and imminent danger to himself or others. What wouldhave happened, Harper wonders, if her father hadn't had the physical strengthor financial means to manage her mother's care, at times becoming a de factobabysitter for the woman he married?

There were times when my Dad had to use a physical restraint like a hold tokeep her from throwing stuff. At support group he learned that you need togive her the meds and watch her swallow them every day if you want a littlepeace in your household.

But as a primary caregiver, Harper's father also was a primary target ofhis wife's rage and paranoia; he bore the brunt of her accusations andthreats.

I know the hopelessness of the situation. My dad's biggest complaint was:"People don't know what I'm dealing with.'"

Harper has never spoken to Betty Zito. But maybe, in some ways, she knowswhat her neighbor is dealing with.

THREE AND A HALF YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder,14-year-old Shannon Gahley refuses Zito's request to touch her face. But hedoes anyway, she says, not just once, but three times, pinching her cheek thelast time. You're pretty, he tells her.

That's what made me start crying. It made me feel awkward, and I was afraidhe was going to touch farther than he did.

Gahley says Zito had approached her while she sat on a friend's porch andsaid he would show her a good time if she came to his trailer. He told herthat the girls he likes best are between 10 and 30, and that he had plenty ofcondoms.

Zito is charged with assault, and a few months later Gahley is sitting in aQueen Anne's County courtroom. Zito is there too, in handcuffs and shackles.And so is another person who has accused him of assault: His mother.

Betty Zito, in a written statement, has described three different incidentsin which her son attacked her verbally and physically. But now, as Gahleylooks on, Frank's mother says she doesn't want to testify against her son, andthe charges are dropped.

When Gahley's case is called, she says she doesn't want to testify either.The judge tells Frank to stay away from the teen-ager, and the case isdismissed.

Everybody said to me, a 14-year-old girl should not have to put him away.I'm thinking, his own Mom can't do it, so why do I have to?

BETTY ZITO did not want to be interviewed for this story. In a short phoneconversation, her voice angry and resolute, she said that news accounts of theshooting have been full of lies and distortions and that she did not wish todiscuss her son.

But her voice comes through loud and clear in her written statements, filedover the past nine years in Queen Anne's County district court.

In past two weeks he set fire to trailer, slapped me and today he grabbedmy hair on both sides of my head and shook me. Has habit of opening aerosolcans with can opener. Does not eat or sleep properly.

Many of Betty's statements come from petitions asking that her son be takento the hospital for emergency psychiatric evaluations.

Accused me of stealing lottery tickets from him and collecting winnings andstealing his 10 million dollars from Publishers Clearing House. Told me thathe would break my arms and legs if I don't give him money.

Of all the people in Frank Zito's life who decline to talk about him,Betty's silence seems the loudest. Of all the women who've complained abouthim, her words are the most painful to hear.

Hit me in the eye while I was driving. Threw my purse out car window intoditch. Screams and yells and threatens me and his grandfather with bodilyharm.

Court records say Zito suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which in hiscase means he has exhibited elements of both schizophrenia and bipolardisorder.

Walks and talks all night. Abuses me verbally. Screams at me if heoversleeps.

Betty Zito has been described by neighbors as a lovely, quiet woman whokept to herself; as a protective mother who drove her son to do his shopping;as a steadfast defender of her child who spoke up when she thought people werepersecuting Frank just for acting strange.

Hits me, screams, yells, uses profane language constantly. Never know whenhe is going to hit me because he goes off for no apparent reason.

Some people feel sorry for Frank's mother, saying she tried her best tohelp her son. Others are angry and bewildered. Why did she drop the charges?Why did she bail Frank out, take him back, allow him to stay? Why didn't shedo something?

Kicked me in the ribs and arms while I was lying on the couch. ... He hitsme, cusses me, screams at me, threatens and torments me constantly. I'mdeathly afraid of him.

TWO AND A HALF YEARS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, he isconvicted of trying to steal a $6.79 combination hammer-screwdriver from ahardware store on Kent Island.

The court proceedings are recorded, so Zito's exact words are preserved.

"It was nothing like a theft, your honor," Zito says. "It was more like adisagreement between me and the sales manager of the store."

At the trial, the store manager testifies that Zito put the tool inside hisdown vest and, after being caught, offered to pay $100 to "get out of this."Told he was going to be arrested, says the manager, Zito responded by askingfor an ax handle "because I'd like to beat you over your [expletive] head withit."

Zito tells a different story. He says he came to the store to buy pesticideand other supplies to fix up his trailer and had plenty of money to pay forthem.

"I had seen those hammers, and I thought, `I wonder if it's the same kind Iused to have, my Dad had when I was a kid.' So I crouched down. I picked it upand I started taking it apart to see if the screwdrivers were inside. ... Thenhe came up and grabbed me and said `you're under arrest.' "

It's Zito's word vs. the manager's, and the judge believes the manager.

During the trial, Zito says he's living at Upper Shore, a psychiatrichospital in Chestertown, and being treated for schizoaffective disorder withthe antipsychotic drug Risperdal. A month later, at a sentencing hearing, thejudge points out that Zito has a history of being hospitalized and stabilizedwith medication, only to deteriorate when he doesn't follow through withtreatment after discharge. Will this time be the same?

"Well, I can't just let them give me a prescription that's going to killme," Zito says.

His voice, baritone-deep and deliberate, brings to mind a record played onespeed too slow. At times he sounds so sure of himself that it's easy to forgethe may not be a reliable narrator.

"I can't take psychotropic drugs," Zito tells the judge. "I'm allergic tothem. They weaken me. Mess up my health. Made me blow up like a balloon andgain a lot of weight and they don't help my mental facilities. ... When I wasin the second grade they gave me Thorazine when it first came out on themarket. ... They gave me Thorazine and tried to calm me down and it broke myresistance to psychotropic drugs."

Zito says there's nothing wrong with his mind except a lack of formaleducation and insists that he will only take "neurological medication" from adoctor he sees in Pennsylvania. He grows increasingly argumentative,especially after the judge sentences him to 18 months in jail - 17 suspended -and orders him to follow a treatment plan from the county mental health clinicas part of his probation.

"No, I won't do the probation." Zito says. "I didn't come here to beprobated illegally and illicitly. Just 'cause you want to stack it on my backlike I'm your property. It ain't gonna work that way 'cause I can't do it likethat. I don't deserve it like that." ... We have a president that commitsatrocities nationally, has places blown up, and I don't think this is too fairabout a guy that gets into an argument with a salesman."

TWENTY-TWO MONTHS before he is charged with murder, Frank Zito facescharges in two cases involving his parents. According to a pre-trialevaluation, Zito "was just joking with his father when he slashed his tire,and fully intended to go get him another one. He says his assault on hismother was justified because she had done nothing to prevent people from goingthrough his mail and thus interfering with his `business affairs.' "

The evaluation says that Zito, now 39, has a GED, is supported by SocialSecurity disability and considers himself a writer and songwriter.

"He refuses to answer any questions in the evaluation of competence becausehe insists that both his parents intend to drop the charges against him buthad not been allowed to do so because of an ongoing plot by the police andprosecutor to drive him from the area."

A few weeks later, during a tumultuous stay at Crownsville Hospital Center,Zito is found incompetent to stand trial, meaning he's unable to understandcourt proceedings or assist in his defense. At the hospital, he refusesmedication and requires seclusion. Among his delusions: He started the war inKosovo.

But the next month, according to court records, Zito is found competent,and after months of delay while he's hospitalized, the cases go to trial. OnFeb. 9, 2000, he is found guilty of threatening to assault his mother with aroll of plastic wrap on Thanksgiving Day, 1998.

The trial is brief: Zito's mother doesn't testify and no evidence of injuryis presented. The only witness, a Centreville officer, testifies that he sawFrank, yelling and cursing, hold a roll of plastic wrap and threaten Betty asshe cowered in a chair.

The maximum penalty for second-degree assault is 10 years in jail. ButLance Richardson, Zito's public defender, has entered a plea of "notcriminally responsible," an insanity defense. If the judge finds Zito NCR, hecould be committed to a hospital for treatment until a court authorizes hisrelease.

But this is not to happen. Zito, his voice surly on a tape of theproceedings, tells his lawyer to withdraw the NCR plea. Incensed about theassault conviction - Zito says he was only yelling at his mother - he gripesabout the numerous petitions that have sent him to Upper Shore and otherfacilities. According to the Crownsville evaluation, he has been hospitalizedat least 17 times since age 20, and has received outpatient treatment on andoff since childhood.

"Every time I yell, if she don't like it, I'm locked up in the hospital,"Zito mutters.

Richardson explains to Zito that if he doesn't plead NCR, he could faceyears in jail, when what he really needs is medication and treatment. "Youdon't belong in the Division of Corrections," the lawyer says.

"I don't belong in the mental institution getting the needles in my ass."

Richardson, in patient, almost parental tones, reiterates the options andconsequences. But Zito only grows louder and more adamant that he doesn't wantto be hospitalized: "I'd rather stay in jail and be left alone."

Ultimately, the decision is Zito's. But even after the judge has beennotified, Richardson doesn't let the matter go.

"I just wish you would have considered the criminal responsibility plea,"he says to his client.

"No," says Zito. "It takes too long. It's forever. They never let you go.Now if it was murder, maybe ... "

ONE YEAR before Frank Zito is charged with murder, he is sentenced to fouryears - three of them suspended - in the Queen Anne's County detention centerfor the Thanksgiving assault on his mother.

Before sentencing, state's attorney David "Chip" Gregory recommends thatZito be sent to the Patuxent Institution, a maximum-security facility forinmates with mental illnesses.

"If we can't control Mr. Zito," says Gregory, "I suggest we put himsomewhere where he's not going to bother people."

But Richardson, the public defender, asks for probation, saying Zitoshouldn't be jailed for the relatively minor assault. A recent doctor's reportsupports Richardson's assertion that Zito has been calm, cooperative andagreeable to treatment.

"He does like to talk to people, and sometimes people don't know how totake him," Richardson says. But "the best chance he has is ... going to [themental health clinic] and taking his medication."

The judge's decision is somewhere between the two. He suspends three yearsof the four-year sentence and gives Zito 171 days credit for time servedbefore the trial. On June 22, 2000, when Zito leaves the detention center,he'll be required to get treatment at the county mental health clinic as partof his 36-month probation.

Zito protests the decision. He complains that the sentence will interferewith his writing, his appointments with "constituents and colleagues." He saysthat he has spent more than his share of time with medics and physicians.

"Well you're going to be involved with medics and physicians for a longtime, Mr. Zito," the judge replies. "You understand that? And indeed, what'sgoing to happen is that people give up ... because you scare people."

MORE THAN FIVE MONTHS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, a youngwoman named Victoria Wood asks a judge to keep Zito away from her. On thepetition for a peace order - a type of restraining order - Wood writes thatZito "has phoned my house twice asking personal questions which I did notanswer. I told him not to call again, and I hung up on him. He called again.... My mother answered the phone and told him to leave me alone and not tocall anymore. He keeps showing up at my job and outside in the parking area. Iam afraid of him and I want him to leave me alone."

By now Zito is infamous for his fixations on local women and girls. Becausesome victims don't want to publicize what happened to them, and because few ofthe offenses result in criminal charges, it is hard to quantify the problem.But the stories are all over town: Women have been asked out, checked out,stared at, visited at work, telephoned, followed, flattered, hounded, givengifts and pursued with a fervor that can make even the most secure heartspound nervously, wondering what an unpredictable man is capable of doing.

Kathleen Cayhoe is working behind the counter at Edwards Pharmacy when shemeets Zito. She's just trying to be courteous when she says hello and talkswith him about his song writing. Soon he's offering to run errands for her andbringing her a gift - a bag of pornographic tapes and books. When she explainsshe can't accept it, he won't take no for an answer. He makes a scene, yellingthat he likes her, that he doesn't understand, until he is asked to leave.

I used to say, why? Why did I ever speak to this guy?

Some women will shrug Zito off as an annoyance, or a desperate soul whoonly wants a companion. But others, like Donna Dukes, will be deeply affectedby their encounters with him.

After Feb. 1, when she finds the letter from Zito in her door, Dukes can'tstop feeling vulnerable. She parks her truck in front of her building, insteadof a more convenient spot in back. She finds herself looking for a note whenshe enters, and looking through the peephole before she leaves.

It scares me to think that he was here, and I was being watched. I'mafraid, which I never was before.

But after the night she gets the note, she never sees or hears from Zitoagain.

TWENTY-SEVEN DAYS before Frank Zito is charged with murder, Lt. Gene Teatof the Centreville Police Department responds to a call at Betty Zito'strailer.

Betty tells Teat that Frank kicked in her screen door and damaged theoutside of her trailer because she would not take him to New Jersey. The weekbefore, she adds, her son kicked a dent in her car's front fender and put hisfist through her wall because he was mad at her.

"She does not want Frank charged with anything," Teat writes in his report."Because he might get mad at her again."

Later that day, Betty signs a court petition asking that Frank be sent tothe hospital. On the petition she indicates that Frank isn't taking hismedication. Asked if he has access to firearms, she responds: "None that Iknow of."

TWO DAYS before he is charged with murder, Frank Zito calls the Washingtonoffice of Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest seeking an appointment with the congressman.Zito doesn't get an appointment, but a female staff member from Gilchrest'sChestertown office returns his call that afternoon.

Their conversation lasts about 20 minutes. According to an aide toGilchrest, Zito seems agitated and unfocused as he details various concernsand complaints, including his suspicion that someone is stealing checks out ofhis mail. In the course of the conversation, he asks the staffer if she ismarried, and if she wants to come to his house.

Zito is told that he'll be sent a form to fill out, explaining how he wantsthe congressman to help him. Zito says he'll do so.

The staffer figures this won't be the last time she'll hear from him.

AROUND 4 P.M. on the day before he's charged with murder, Frank Zito visitshis probation officer. At their meeting, later described as cooperative, Zitodiscusses his interest in a vocational program for people with psychiatricdisabilities. Records indicate that Zito has consistently been showing up forhis monthly counseling sessions at the county mental health clinic.

Almost four hours after the meeting, the police get a complaint from one ofZito's next-door neighbors: Zito is playing his music too loud again. Thenewest town officer, Nickerson, backed up by county sheriff's deputy JasonSchwenz and state trooper Richard Skidmore, go to Zito's trailer to handle thecall.

Some people will say that what happened next was inevitable. But hindsight,sometimes so clarifying, can also be deceptive: What outcome doesn't seemcertain after it has already happened?

Maybe, if you live in Centreville, if you aren't looking back, you areexpecting the situation to be handled as it has been for years - the policemanaging, the mother persevering, the town dealing, the neighbors coping.Maybe you expect Frank Zito to go on with life as usual, too turbulent to beignored and too harmless to be banished. Maybe the past predicts the future.

Or maybe, in a quiet neighborhood, in the darkness of a winter night, youhear gunshots.

THE NIGHT BEFORE her son is charged with first-degree murder in the deathsof Queen Anne's County Sheriff's Deputy Jason C. Schwenz, 28, and CentrevillePolice Officer Michael S. Nickerson, 24, Betty Zito calls 911.

Get an ambulance to 307 Hammond Street right away. There's two officersdown. ... Please, an ambulance, right away. ... They tried to break in on him.He told them not to. ... My God, get somebody, one of them might be dying. ...I didn't even know Frank had a damn gun in there. ... I should never havegiven them my damn keys to unlock that door. ... The neighbors called becausehis radio was too loud. An officer came to the door and asked him to come out.He wouldn't come out. The officer kicked his glass out of his door and ... theofficer came over here and I called Frank and Frank said no he wasn't comingout, that he hadn't done anything wrong, they were just harassing him. ... MyGod, these people are slow getting here. ... Where the hell did he get thegun?

News researcher Sarah Gehring contributed to this story.

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