Woman gets life term in murder of daughter

June 08, 1995|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WEST PALM BEACH FLA. — WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Attorneys for Pauline Zile were elated that she escaped the death penalty yesterday on charges of murdering her daughter, but they barely had time to say so as they began working on an appeal that could tie the case up for years.

Prosecutors also quickly turned to final preparations for the Aug. trial of her husband, John Zile, who police say bludgeoned to death 7-year-old Christina Holt while punishing her. Pauline Zile's crime, they say, was not stepping in to protect the girl.

She will not testify against her husband in his trial, her attorney says.

Prosecutors had sought the death penalty, but Circuit Judge Stephen Rapp said yesterday that Pauline Zile's otherwise clean record, troubled childhood and the fact that she did not administer the fatal beating made the death penalty inappropriate.

As he pronounced the sentence of life in prison, she put her face in her hands and appeared to sob.

The emotional case began with Pauline Zile's tearful pleas on television for the return of the child she said was abducted from the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop and ended a week later with the discovery of the girl's small body in a sandy grave behind a Kmart. The case attracted national attention, coming at the same time a Union, S.C., woman claimed her two sons were abducted, later admitting she drowned them in a lake.

Christina had been raised by relatives in Maryland and returned to Pauline Zile only a few months before she was killed in their rented Riveria Beach apartment. The girl's final summer was a blur of horrific beatings and severe discipline.

"She was unhappy when her daughter was dropped off unexpectedly to live with her," Judge Rapp said. "Christina was an unnecessary expense that she couldn't afford. . . .

"She sold Christina's bicycle and toys before she was murdered," the judge said. "She was present while John Zile beat and suffocated Christina, telling John in a calm, conversational tone: 'That is enough.' "

Dressed in prison clothing, a white bow in her hair, Pauline Zile sobbed through much of Judge Rapp's seven-minute pronouncement. Most of the time she clasped the hand of her attorney, Ellis Rubin. Mr. Rubin and his son, Guy, represented the 24-year-old.

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