- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

NEW YORK Maria Zone could have walked away. Her bosses at Court TV gave her permission, and no one would have been surprised if she let someone else finish her documentary on a murderous mother-and-son grifter team.

After all, Miss Zone was held hostage for more than four hours last fall by the son, Kenneth Kimes, during an interview at a state prison.

She decided to tough it out, however, after a couple of weeks' recovery time. The segment on her ordeal is easily the most gripping part of "Murderous Mother, Deadly Son," airing tonight at 10 on Court TV.

"I was determined I wasn't going to let Kenny Kimes, this villain, get the best of me," says Miss Zone, a free-lance writer and producer based near Syracuse, N.Y.

Kimes and his mother, Sante, are serving life sentences in the death of 82-year-old millionaire Irene Silverman. They had schemed to steal Miss Silverman's Manhattan home; her body has never been found.

The documentary explores the Kimes' lengthy criminal past, including the three years Sante Kimes spent in prison for enslaving her maids in Hawaii.

Miss Zone, a mother of two and married to a Syracuse sportscaster, began her TV career as host of a children's show in Scranton, Pa. She has specialized in reporting crime stories since answering an ad searching for researchers and liking the work.

She has interviewed mobsters; Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray; and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, the Charles Manson devotee who tried to kill President Ford. But Sante and Kenneth Kimes "are the most evil people I have ever encountered," she says.

Two weeks before interviewing Kenneth Kimes, she had an off-camera meeting with Sante Kimes at another state prison.

"She gave me the creeps," Miss Zone says. "I sort of felt like they were interrogating me to see if I was good enough to tell their side of the story, which was bizarre. It proved to me how manipulative they can be. This is all part of their persona."

Miss Zone had met Kenneth Kimes once before their fateful Oct. 10 encounter. When she brought the cameras to the prison that day, she found a different Kimes than she had seen earlier he was fidgety, took frequent bathroom breaks and tried to get a written promise that Miss Zone would conduct a follow-up interview with him.

She didn't notice his pen. It was the pen Kimes held against her throat when, after a break to get food and let her photographers load new film, he suddenly grabbed Miss Zone and said she was his hostage.

Kimes demanded that New York prison authorities block his extradition to California, where he and his mother also were accused of murder.

The documentary shows shaky footage of Kimes retreating to a corner of the prison cafeteria where the interview had taken place, his arm around Miss Zone's neck. Court TV got the image because Miss Zone had brought her personal video camera and a corrections officer picked it up and started shooting. Kimes angrily ordered the camera shut off.

Miss Zone thought back to stories she had done about hostage situations, remembering advice that she should personalize herself to her captor. She looked in his eyes, talked about her family, even prayed with him.

Kimes whispered that he would not hurt her, but Miss Zone didn't believe him.

"He had me at points in a body lock where I couldn't move and I could just feel his heart pounding in my back," she says. "We were both sweating on each other. It was totally disgusting."

Miss Zone noticed the prison negotiators creeping closer and closer as the hours passed. Finally, one burly negotiator approached Kimes to show him his business card, then pounced.

Kimes' grip loosened. Miss Zone ran away. She didn't look back.

There wasn't any question that Miss Zone would include her ordeal as part of the documentary, and she was briefly interviewed on camera about it. They chose not to let the incident dominate the show, however, keeping to Court TV's format of a chronological profile of criminals.

"It's difficult because you never think you're going to become part of the story," she says. "You just have to keep your objectivity when you can."

It will be Kimes' last interview for a while; he was given an eight-year sentence in solitary confinement and is expected to be extradited long before that is through. Any chance to speak to Sante Kimes also was scuttled when she was placed in disciplinary housing; guards found a pen taped to the ceiling of her cell.

"I don't think I will ever fully digest what happened to me," Miss Zone says. "Sometimes, I feel like I'm in a 'Twilight Zone' episode, that's the best way I can describe it. I'm on the outside of myself looking in. I'm lucky to have the support of a wonderful, caring family. That helped me through something that is very traumatic."

Sometimes she wonders whether the Kimeses have any friends out of jail who could harm her, and she's curious about how she would react if Kimes ever called her from jail.

But despite her mother's urgings, Miss Zone has no plans to stop doing crime stories.

"I think the odds are in my favor," she says. "One hostage-taking in a lifetime is all anybody can handle."

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