Pride Week 2012: Memories Of SI Resident's Murder Still Weigh On Community
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22 years ago, a man was stabbed to death in a Staten Island community because he was gay. Those in the island's LGBT community still work to keep his memory alive, even as much has changed on the borough to make sure such a crime never happens again. NY1's Amanda Farinacci filed the following report.
22 years ago, a quiet street in Charleston was the scene of a vicious and brutal killing.
In the woods near his childhood home, 44-year-old Vietnam veteran James Zappalorti built this scrap wood shack whose remains are still intact years later.
It was near his so-called "beach house" that Zappalorti was killed because he was gay.
"This neighborhood used to be spotless," says neighbor LaDonna Reiter. "He would go around cleaning everything. He would always come over. He used to call me Mrs. Owens. 'Mrs. Owens, can I do this for you? Can I do that for you?'"
Investigators say 20-year-old Michael Taylor and 26-year-old Philip Sarlo, a pair known in the neighborhood as troublemakers, taunted Zappalorti and followed him to his small hut on January 22, 1990.
They stabbed him, slashed his throat, stole his keys and ransacked his bedroom, only to make off with a pair of rosary beads before Zappalorti's invalid mother scared them off.
His body was discovered by his brother the next day. Sarlo and Taylor were arrested soon after.
"I often think about him and sometimes I drive by this area," says Jim Smith, who attended Zappalorti's funeral. "It's desolate and it shows the hate that people have for one another. It's really a terrible thing. Times have improved but it was a tough time back there."
The two men were charged with second-degree murder.
Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan says hate crime laws, enacted in 2000, would have been a great tool for prosecuting this case, because the intent of the killers was so clear.
Philip Sarlo died in prison in 1997. Michael Taylor is set to meet with the parole board for the first time in October. He's eligible for parole in February.
Many in the island's LGBT community say they won't let that happen. They're starting a letter writing campaign to the parole board to keep him in jail, a campaign that the district attorney's office plans to join.