FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- John Walter Zile pleaded with the judge for a second chance.
L It was April 1986 in Maryland, and he was in trouble. Again.
He wanted to prove that he was not a hardened criminal, show that he could start making good on his promises to be a responsible adult.
"I have a problem with accepting responsibility for myself and my actions," he wrote to Judge William C. Miller. "I really want to help myself and get on with my life."
Mr. Zile, 32, -- who was ordered held without bond after his arraignment yesterday on charges of murdering his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Christina Holt -- has spent his life tangling with the law and losing.
The picture that emerges from court documents in Montgomery County is of a man of broken promises, not the hard-working, family man described when Christina was reported missing.
Mr. Zile didn't make good on his vow to act responsibly; instead, he drifted from job to job, barely able to support his growing family.
Just two months ago, when his wife was pregnant with her fourth child, he walked out on his job to go to Woodstock. His boss never saw him again.
Mr. Zile's troubles stretch back to his teen-age years in Maryland, where he didn't make it past the ninth grade and instead racked up a string of charges that had him confined to juvenile homes, court records show.
In 1984, at 23, he was convicted of breaking into a home in Rockville and stealing a rifle and silverware. He was sentenced to three years' probation.
In 1986, he was back in court, this time for drinking and driving and violating probation. Judge Miller sentenced him to nine months in jail.
When he was released in October 1986, he agreed to get counseling, to stay in touch with his probation officer and to let his probation officer know if he switched jobs.
But he didn't get counseling. He stopped reporting to his probation officer in April 1987. And he quit his job at Maaco Auto Body in Rockville without notice.
He moved to Jensen Beach, Fla., where his romance with Pauline Yingling flourished.
The woman, who married Mr. Zile in 1990, had herself just moved south from Maryland, leaving her infant daughter, Christina, and a bad marriage behind.
Two days after they moved in together in the fall of 1987, Mr. Zile was arrested again for violating the conditions of his probation.
In February, the judge sentenced him to the 77 days he had served, and he returned to Florida.
Since then, the Ziles have worked in at least four Palm Beach County restaurants, hopping from job to job in search of better pay to support their growing family.
Money was tight for the Ziles and their two sons, ages 3 and 5, before Christina came to live with them in June. The pressure seemed to grow when Christina came to Florida. Mrs. Zile, who gave birth to her fourth child several weeks ago, told friends that she gave the infant up for adoption because the family could not afford another child.
The couple and the three children already were squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment at the Sea Nymph Apartments in Singer Island and struggling to pay their $550 monthly rent.
Linda Kauppinen, who has lived next door to the Ziles for three months, said Mrs. Zile recently went door to door trying to sell 40 videotapes of children's movies:
"She said she was selling them for $20 because she needed gas money."