Florida jury ponders fate of mother in girl's slaying

April 11, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A Palm Beach County jury began deciding yesterday whether Pauline Zile was a caring but overburdened mother or an ill-tempered woman who had a hand in her daughter's murder.

Ms. Zile is charged with first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated child abuse in the death last year of her 7-year-old daughter, Christina Holt. She could go to the electric chair if convicted.

Ms. Zile and her second husband, John, made Christina's final days a horrendous, terror-filled time, prosecutors told the jury.

The girl, who had been staying with other relatives, lived with them only 90 days before she was killed.

"She was completely alone. Terrified, frightened, injured," assistant state attorney Mary Ann Duggan said. "She was a prisoner with no one to play with, no hope."

Ms. Zile's attorneys, Ellis and Guy Rubin, described their client as a young woman saddled with an angry and aggressive husband. She was 8 1/2 months pregnant, taking care of Christina, her two young sons and her out-of-work husband.

The daughter she gave birth to was given up for adoption.

She didn't know that Mr. Zile, Christina's stepfather, was abusing the girl, the Rubins said. The only time she hit her was to give her a few slaps when she refused to get up for school, they said.

"Pauline Zile did not kill Christina Holt," Mr. Rubin told jurors. Her real crime was fooling the public, he said.

He said "there was no reason to believe that Pauline was anything other than a good, caring mother."

But prosecutors recapped testimony about how Ms. Zile pulled Christina from school, the only place the little girl felt safe, after she had attended just five days. Christina's teacher testified that the child clung to her, as if she was afraid.

Ms. Zile pawned Christina's pink bike and her Hooked on Phonics tapes, prosecutors said. She sold the girl's favorite video tapes in a bar and screamed at her, they said.

The jury of nine men and three women met for about 3 1/2 hours yesterday without reaching a verdict. They're scheduled to resume deliberations this morning.

The case grabbed national attention last year when Ms. Zile and her husband, John, told police that the girl had been abducted. The pair made emotional public pleas for her return. Police later learned that Christina had been dead for nearly a month when the Ziles went on TV asking for help in finding her. Investigators say Mr. Zile beat the girl until she was unconscious and died.

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