A tragic trail of violence (continued, 1)


(continued, 1)

On the beach, Joby forced the two teen-agers to hold hands and walk in front of him like prisoners, kicking and hitting them to keep them moving. They walked to the Delaware line, at least half a mile, Joby screaming and blaming Amie for making him lose his ring, for ruining his life. He interrogated Jason and Amie about where the boys and girls slept in the condominium and who Amie had spent time with that week.

Finally he forced the two to sit on their hands, cross-legged on the sand, with their backs to a chain link fence while he paced back and forth, threatening to break their legs. He ordered Jason to hit Amie; when he refused, Joby grabbed Jason's hand and hit her in the chest with it three times.

At one point, Amie urged Jason, who was small and thin and no match for Joby, to run for help. He did.

With Jason gone, Joby's rage found one focus. Choose your death, he told his girlfriend: drowning, choking or beating. Then he threatened to kill her family.

Amie pleaded with him, sobbing, as he pounded her chest, over and over, laughing. Then she spotted a group of men fishing at the water's edge and broke free. Grabbing their flashlight, she shone it on her face to show what her boyfriend had done.

It was the calm, reasonable Joby who caught up to her and reassured the fishermen: The couple would go up under the street light and talk things out. They didn't need to interfere.

In a daze, Amie went along with it. When Joby saw the extent of his handiwork, he began crying and apologizing, begging her to forgive him.

Later, X-rays and photographs taken at the medical clinic at 93rd Street showed Amie suffered contusions of the left eardrum -- she couldn't hear correctly for months -- lacerations and swelling of her cheek and nose, a contusion of the right eye that caused it to hemorrhage, and a bruised rib cage.

Although the teen-ager was reluctant to press charges, her mother insisted: Otherwise he'll keep on doing it.

Amie's mother later recalled receiving a phone call from Joby's mother, who wanted them to drop their charges. Amie's mother refused. Your son's abusive, she told Pat Long. He's going to kill somebody someday.

That fall, Amie felt alarmed to see Joby with a 16-year-old named Kimberly. Soon, she sought out Amie for advice: Joby had given her a black eye, and she wanted to know how to get away from him.

Get a restraining order, Amie told her. Press charges.

Because Kimberly -- and Joby's next victim, a 17-year-old named Sharon -- declined to be interviewed and were minors at the time of these events, their last names are being withheld. But their experiences with Joby are recounted in reports to police. Like Amie Gearhart, they came to know Joby No. 2.

From a charging document filed by Kimberly's mother:

Oct. 18, 1987: "Joseph C. Palczynski searched through Kim's bedroom without permission when she was in the shower. While searching he found birth control pills. The discovery of these pills made Joseph very angry because he did not want her taking them. As a result, he began to slap Kim several times in the face with both an open hand and a back hand, resulting in a black eye [right] and bruising of the right and left cheekbones. After a series of slaps in the face, Joseph then punched Kim in the stomach, knocking her to her knees. He continued to threaten Kim, stating that if she didn't do what he said he would do it again."

Feb. 21, 1988: "Joseph pulled Kimberly into the bathroom at his house [owned by his grandmother] stating that he wanted to have sex with her. When she refused, he became very angry and very forceful. ... Joseph punched her with a closed fist causing multiple bruises along Kim's breastbone, then exited the bathroom ... went into a closet and got a razorblade. He then proceeded to threaten Kim saying 'If you don't come here and talk to me, I'll beat you some more whether my grandmom is here or not!' "

Palczynski was convicted of beating Kim and sentenced to two years of supervised probation. In January 1989, facing Amie Gearhart's charges, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. A psychiatrist found him competent to stand trial, and he was later sentenced to four years in prison in Hagerstown. He served two, including some time for an attempted escape. He received regular counseling there and was described as having "deliberately [sought] out dangerous situations consistent with a fantasy identity as a 'Rambo' like hero."

Palczynski was 22 when he was released from jail in April 1991. He returned home to live with his mother and stepfather, worked part-time at an athletic supply store, took lifeguard courses and occasionally did construction work. According to mental health reports, life at home was strained: His parents disapproved of his dating high school girls, whom he would sometimes sneak into the house.

By August, he had moved into an apartment with two roommates. He was dating a 17-year-old named Sharon when, in September, less than six months after his release from jail, he was warned by the assistant principal not to trespass on the grounds of her school. Later, he was arrested for attacking Sharon there.

From her charging document:

Nov. 8, 1991: "We were arguing in front of [her school]. I proceeded into [the school]; he came running after me. He pushed me up against the wall. I pleaded with him not to hit me but the next thing I knew I was on the ground screaming. He has also threatened my parents. (To kill them and leave me living to suffer.) He said if he goes to jail he will kill me or get someone to hurt me! He has gotten people to come to my house before. This is not the first time he has hurt me, but before he only pushed me and pulled me by my hair."

Out on bail, Joby was ordered to have no contact with Sharon. But he phoned her repeatedly, she complained, threatening "to blow her brains out" if she didn't drop her charges against him. He also purchased an Inland M-1 .30-caliber rifle from Edgewater Pawn Shop, telling his friend George Coleman, who thought he was "just talking big," that he was going to use it to shoot people at Sharon's school.

Meanwhile, Sharon filed additional charges describing the threatening phone calls. Palczynski was arrested and held at the Baltimore County Detention Center. When staff there decided his behavior called for psychiatric evaluation, he was sent first to Franklin Square Hospital and then to Spring Grove State Hospital.

At Spring Grove, he was initially diagnosed as having bipolar mood disorder and possible depression. But on Dec. 16, 1991, two days after arriving at the facility, he escaped and fled the state with the identification cards of a friend.

A month later, the fugitive surfaced in Gooding, Idaho, when a woman filed a complaint against him for assaulting her 15-year-old daughter and threatening to kill the girl's brother. Neither of them could be found for interviews. But a police report and a newspaper article gave the following account of events:

While Gooding police were investigating the mother's accusation, Maryland State Police alerted their counterparts in Idaho that Palczynski was believed to be hiding out in Gooding. The man was unstable, they were told, and possibly armed with an automatic rifle, a 9 mm handgun and a shotgun.

On the morning of Jan. 17, the fugitive barricaded himself alone in an apartment and told police negotiators he would kill himself and shoot people in a nearby parking lot if police advanced. After nearly 16 hours, a SWAT team hit the apartment with tear gas. Palczynski was apprehended and eventually returned to Maryland.

Things looked pretty grim: Less than a year after leaving jail, he now faced charges of violating federal gun laws, of battering and threatening Sharon and of escaping from Spring Grove Hospital. Any conviction could return him to prison.

Unless he was judged legally insane.

Clearly his mental state was to blame for his actions, his lawyers argued. Palczynski was sent to the Federal Correctional Institution in Petersburg, Va., for a month's evaluation. His stay there was to set the tone for the next three years, a time he spent navigating -- some believe manipulating -- the federal mental health system.

In the course of his evaluation, Palczynski told the federal psychologist that he had illegally purchased the gun at the pawn shop to kill the "ninjas" who were trying to kill him. When he cut his wrist twice, once deeply enough to require stitches, he told the psychologist a voice told him to do it.

Later, Palczynski would boast to girlfriends that he had cut himself to fool the system. If so, his ploy worked: The federal psychologist diagnosed him with schizophrenia, paranoid type, and concluded he met the criteria of legal insanity, a decision that led to his being found not guilty on federal weapons charges.

Fifteen months later, after court-ordered treatment at a number of government facilities, Palczynski appeared to have made a complete recovery. According to another psychologist, the 25-year-old man's condition was now "extremely stable" with "no evidence of bizarre behavior or verbalizations which might be indicative of delusional thinking." He had not taken medication for more than a year.

If the patient had indeed suffered from a major mental illness in 1992, he had fully recovered by September 1994, psychologist M.A. Conroy concluded. Her diagnosis: personality disorder, not otherwise specified, with antisocial and borderline features. She did not see any reason for further psychiatric treatment or follow-up.

Later, Joby's lawyer would speculate his client had "conned" the doctors into releasing him. Joby's mother would maintain that he had remained stable without medication only because he had been in a stress-free situation where no one provoked him.

In any event, the assessment brought him home. He no longer faced prosecution for beating Sharon because a judge had dismissed her charges. While he was institutionalized, his lawyer had argued successfully that his right to a speedy trial had been denied.

That same argument did not prevail with another judge, who reviewed his charges for escaping Spring Grove. In January 1995, Joby received a three-year suspended sentence with five years of probation.

He was free to choose his next victim.

Seeing beyond the surface

In the summer of 1995, 42-year-old Gary Osborne was growing concerned about his teen-age daughter. There was something about the guy Michella was dating that he didn't trust.

Joe Palczynski was a nice-looking man with a fancy sports car. He was as polite as they come and seemed devoted to Gary's 17-year-old daughter and her baby. But he had no actual job that Gary could see. And right from the start, Gary thought the guy was older than he let on.

He was controlling, too. Gary often would see Joby hiding in the bushes outside the Osbornes' house in Chase, peering into the windows to see if Michella was talking on the telephone or smoking the cigarettes he had forbidden her.

Then one day he saw bruises on Michella. It was all he needed to know.

Roughing up women pressed all his buttons: His ex-wife, Diane, had been beaten to death in 1989 by her boyfriend. Now, as Gary questioned Michella about Joby, father and daughter argued. It turned out Joby was 27, not 23 as he'd claimed. And the bruises? Michella tried to explain them to her father by saying she'd fallen off a ladder helping Joby's mother with her cleaning business. But Gary suspected Joby.

One day in July, when Gary ordered Joby out of his house, a fight ensued. Gary, a slender 125 pounds, went to the hospital with four broken ribs and a split lip requiring stitches.

He didn't press charges -- he didn't want any more trouble. But he would change his mind after Joby beat his daughter on Christmas night. In a recent interview, Michella gave this account:

She had spent the holiday with Joby, visiting his family as well as hers. At the end of the day, tired, she said she wanted to spend the night in her dad's house instead of Joby's apartment. Stung, he argued with her and things quickly got out of hand.

He choked her and slammed her head against the shower tiles. Michella scratched his face, staining with blood the white sweatshirt she had given him. Joby yelled that she had 10 minutes to remove the blood or he would give her the beating of her life.

Desperate, Michella soaked the sweatshirt in cold water, rubbed the stain with ice. It wasn't enough, though, and when the time was up, Joby made good on his threat.

After beating her, he ordered her to go into the kitchen and pick up a knife. Then, putting a cloth over his own hand, he took the knife from her.

I could kill you right now, he threatened. My fingerprints ain't on it, yours are. All I have to do is tell the police you tried to kill me with this knife and I killed you in self-defense.

Later, his anger spent, Joby fell into bed exhausted. Michella lay beside him shivering, certain that he would kill her if she moved to get away.

The next morning, when he seemed calmer, Michella begged to go to work. She told him, over and over, how much she loved him, how she would never leave him, how she would never go to the cops. Then she reminded him she was the one with an income.

Joby drove her to the video store where she worked, then watched her from his car for a while. When he left, Michella took a cab to her father's house.

After Gary Osborne and his daughter went to police to report the incident, Joby's mother begged them to drop the charges. Joby, on probation for his 1991 escape from Spring Grove Hospital, would undoubtedly go back to jail if he were convicted.

But Gary refused to be swayed. It was a fateful decision.

Awaiting trial in the Baltimore County Detention Center, Joe Palczynski made a plan. He was determined to change Gary Osborne's mind. And he had friends who could help.

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