Now Pilius family looks to future so does murderer

MICHAEL OLESKER

November 19, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Yesterday the children of Vitalis V. Pilius stayed home from school. The man found guilty of killing Pilius was moved to a new cell, where prison officers could keep a steady eye on him. Heaven forbid, he should attempt to hurt himself. The widow of Vitalis Pilius planned a picnic.

Life has to go on, for the Pilius family and even for Dontay Carter. Pilius' widow, Aldona, wanted to draw her children around her after a nine-month ordeal. The captors of the 19-year-old Carter wanted to put him into the general prison population and hope for the best.

All during his trial for murdering Pilius, Carter was kept in a so-called pre-execution cell at the Maryland Penitentiary just yards from the gas chamber. The location was strictly ironic. They put him there after Carter tried to start a riot at the city Detention Center last summer. The new cell was as close as he will ever get to the gas chamber.

While guards were moving Carter to his new surroundings, Aldona Pilius drove home from court in a state of emotional exhaustion. She neglected to get a cake for her sons. On this Tuesday afternoon when a jury emerged from 10 hours of deliberation spread over two days and finally declared Carter guilty of the brutal murder of Pilius, it was their twin boys' fourth birthday.

She had a quiet little party for them: a few presents, a few snapshots taken, forced smiles all around. Dontay Carter sat in his new cell, with the vision of metal bars stretched as far as his life will take him, and knew none of this. Aldona Pilius put her arms around her children and said, No school tomorrow.

She needed to hold onto them a little. She'd been away too long, five weeks of sitting in court and reliving the death of her husband, and all the months before that when she'd been divided between her children and the legal confrontation with Carter.

There are four Pilius children: the twins, Vitas and Jonas, 7-year old Darius, and 9-year old Tomas. Dontay Carter testified that he, too, had four children. He said all four arrived within six months of each other in 1988, when he was 15, from four different mothers -- though, when he told this story, Carter's sister leaned over and whispered to an assistant state's attorney, "He doesn't have four children. He has one."

The jury took 10 hours to make up its mind. They had the testimony of 61 witnesses to consider, and 148 exhibits, and there were questions about some of the legal language. But there was apparently no doubt in their minds about Carter's guilt, and no doubt in Aldona Pilius' mind how they would decide.

"I had confidence in them all along," she said yesterday. "You have to believe in the system. But it was painful to wait for the telephone call, saying they had come back. It reminded me of the feeling when my husband was missing, and the police said they would call when they found him. The call never came."

Even in a time of wholesale brutality, the killing of Vitalis Pilius touched a nerve in a community where race relations are fragile. Carter, who is black, reportedly schemed to kidnap well-dressed white men from parking garages.

"There's a lot of crime in this city," one courthouse official said yesterday, "but the overwhelming percentage of it is black on black. What gets people particularly upset here isn't just the black-on-white aspect, but that it was done specifically with race in mind."

Not all of this surprised police. When Dontay Carter was about to be released from his last prison stretch, informants were telling city police, "There's a guy in here named Carter who's completely crazy. He's talking about killing some police when he gets out."

Instead, he went for the defenseless Pilius, whose family tried yesterday to get on with their lives. Instead of school, their mother suggested a picnic, or a trip to a playground.

"First they lost their dad," Aldona Pilius said yesterday, "and then, for the last five weeks, they didn't have me. By the time I came home from court, it was their bedtime."

She sounded drained by the ordeal. When the verdict was announced, she found tears running down her face, but now she just seemed exhausted. She said faith in God helped her survive. She said her children were giving her courage. She said she wanted to fill yesterday with laughter and looking ahead. It was nine months to the day since she had buried her husband.

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