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American Journalism Review
Held Hostage  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   December 2000

Held Hostage   

By Valarie Basheda
Valarie Basheda, a former AJR managing editor, is an editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.     

Convicted murderer Kenneth Kimes was 30 minutes into an October 10 interview with freelance producer Maria Zone at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York when he asked for a drink and something to eat. It was Zone's second meeting with Kimes, who with his mother was convicted of killing New York City socialite Irene Silverman in 1998. Zone, who was working on a piece for Court TV's "Crime Stories," couldn't find any sandwiches for Kimes, so she brought back two Snickers bars and some bottled water. What happened next--an ordeal that lasted four hours--made national headlines. AJR Managing Editor Valarie Basheda talked to Zone about her experience.

AJR: Describe what happened next.

Zone: The next thing I knew he was behind me and he had his arm underneath my chin and a pen pointed toward my neck in his left hand. He immediately said, "This is a hostage situation. This is a hostage situation." I guess for a split second, I remember turning around and just saying something like, "Kenny, what are you doing," like maybe a part of me didn't actually believe this was happening.... He dragged me to the corner of the room and we were crouched down. Just the thought of being that close to him makes me shudder sometimes, because I actually felt his heart pounding against my chest, and I was like, "Oh my God."

AJR: Did you think you were going to die?

Zone: There were times when I was petrified, and at one point I remember sobbing and just saying, "Please don't hurt me," and then he'd say to me, "I'm not going to hurt you." But I'd think, "This man has a terrible résumé, how can I believe him, obviously so desperate." I was just afraid he was going to snap.... Here he is serving 125 years in prison--what has he got to lose by stabbing or injuring me? There were times when I would try and grab the pen just to see what his reaction would be, not forcefully, but just take my right hand, which was free, and put it over his hand with the pen, and he would immediately grab my fingers very tightly. And I said, "Oh my goodness, he's going to break my fingers," so I didn't do that too many times.... There were moments when I thought...I would die, but then I would think about my girls [her two daughters, ages 1 and 4] and say, "No I can't.... I have things to do; I have to go home."

AJR: At one point, you recited the Lord's Prayer with him?

Zone: I thought it would give him some comfort and make him think more about what he's doing, maybe reach a different level inside him. I had no idea if he was even religious, but I knew that I needed to say a prayer just for me. He was very agreeable to saying it, and we said it out loud. I can't say it affected him, but I do know that maybe a half hour later is when he put the pen down.

AJR: Did the incident affect you in any way as a journalist?

Zone: No, except that I still want to do the story. Friends have said to me, "How can you continue on the story, and why would you want to?" And I'm just very motivated.... I think it will be even more interesting that I became the story in a sense with this happening, and I think people would be interested in knowing about that. What motivates people like Kenneth Kimes and his mother to do what they do? They were extremely wealthy, had homes all over the place, traveled the country extensively, why would they want to kill somebody?... They're just very intriguing to me.

AJR: Is there anything you think other journalists can learn from what you went through?

Zone: For my next prison interview, I will be asking more questions in terms of where the interview's going to be held, will the inmate be restrained in any way, and if not, maybe make suggestions as to making this as comfortable as possible for both the prisoner and myself. I certainly don't want my experience to deter other journalists from seeing inmates like this, because you really have to tell both sides of every story to get to the bottom of the truth or to try to unravel why a person did what he did.

Zone was released unharmed, and Kimes was put in solitary confinement for eight years.



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