Mary Bilotta's voice was strong Wednesday as she detailed the horrible abuse that she and her children suffered at the hand of her husband, Joseph Bilotta.
With her four children gathered around her, she begged the Florida Parole Commission to keep the man she married behind bars for the rest of his life.
"I don't know how this came this far, but I'm here to protect my kids," she said.
By the time the emotional hearing was over, the Bilottas went home to Broward County, optimistic that their tormentor would remain in prison.
Last year, Joseph "Big Joe" Bilotta was sent to prison for 15 years after pleading guilty to 36 felony counts, including child abuse and kidnapping. Two weeks ago, commissioners voted 2-1 to grant a medical release to Bilotta, who has AIDS.
Wednesday, one of the commissioners who earlier voted to free the inmate apologized to his family. The board agreed to keep Bilotta locked up, pending another hearing within 60 days.
"I think we owe an apology to the family, based on all the information that wasn't available to us at the time," said Commissioner Maurice Crockett.
It isn't clear what commissioners knew before taking their July 10 vote, but Bilotta's file is thick with statements from lawyers and social workers who believe Bilotta would kill his family if he gets the chance.
Commissioners heard that message Wednesday from the victims. The four Bilotta children, ages 11 to 18, attended the hearing. Three of them, including two girls who were sexually abused by their father, asked commissioners to keep him behind bars.
"We just got our life back together. We moved. We got a new place," the 17-year-old daughter said. "Why should we have to go through this? We thought this was final. You might feel sorry for him _ "Oh, he's sick' _ but that's where he belongs, in jail."
Although required by law to do so, the Parole Commission never contacted the family or others involved with the case prior to Bilotta's July 10 release hearing. The family learned of the vote after the hearing, and succeeded in persuading officials to grant Wednesday's hearing before releasing Bilotta.
Mrs. Bilotta said that beginning in 1993, her drug-abusing husband broke her arms and legs, locked her in a closet, slit her throat, sexually abused their daughters, ripped her finger off to get at her wedding ring, then took away her painkillers after she had surgery to repair the finger. The children were deprived of sleep and kept from school. He said he would kill them all and cut their mother into pieces if they told police.
"I can't conceive of how this man could be released," said Mrs. Bilotta, who said her 4-foot-10, 100-pound body was no match for her 6-foot-1, 250-pound husband. "I have a metal plate and three screws in my head."
The abuse was both physical and emotional, she said. "I had to stand in a corner and count the flowers on the kitchen wallpaper. There are 624 flowers on the kitchen wallpaper. I'll never forget that.
"If I was your daughter and these were your children, would you let him out?"
At the July 10 hearing, only one parole commissioner, Chairman Edward Spooner, voted to keep Bilotta behind bars, saying he didn't believe Bilotta was a "good risk." Commissioners Judith Wolson and Crockett voted to let him go. Wolson was out of town Wednesday and missed the hearing. A retired commissioner voted in her place.
Spooner says the information in the file was enough for him to vote against the release.
But in an interview Wednesday, Crockett said he never saw the letters warning of the threat Bilotta posed to his family. Crockett said he based his decision solely on a recommendation from a Department of Corrections doctor. The doctor later said she would never have recommended the release if she had known Bilotta was threatening his family. Bilotta's medical records are private.
"He's in a wheelchair, but he can still kill," Mary Bilotta told commissioners.
Despite her anguish, Mary Bilotta was conciliatory toward parole commissioners. She promised to attend their next hearing, which will be held within 60 days.
"If we have to come back and talk to keep him behind bars, we'll do it," Mary Bilotta said. "I can conquer anything as long as I'm not getting beaten up and my kids are safe."