Heather Owens cries still for a mother she never knew.
"I know more about how she died than how she lived," she says, sobbing.
Heather was 1 year old when her mom, Patty Papay, was murdered. She remembers nothing.
Her brother, Eric Papay, was 4. He remembers.
He remembers his stepmother hunting down his mother. He remembers kneeling beside her bloodied body. A diaper was stuffed in her mouth.
He remembers too much, too often, his life littered with depression medications and suicidal thoughts.
"I remember finding her ... her eyes wide open. Four years old, you can't deal with that. It's too much. It will screw you up for life. I have gone through hell with this."
A few days shy of the 30th anniversary of Patty Papay's murder, her children are fighting to prevent the parole of their stepmother.
"It's like a horror movie," Heather says. "This woman left us alone in the house with our mother's dead body for 12 hours. She didn't care if any of us lived or died ... We're just terrified of this woman."
On the evening of April 3, 1981, Ruth Papay set out to kill the ex-wife of her new husband while returning the children to Patty's home in Richland County, northeast of Columbus, after they had visited their father.
Over two to three hours, Ruth beat Patty, 32, with an unloaded gun. She forced her to drink a concoction of detergent, fabric softener, powdered cleanser and rubbing alcohol and to down a handful of pills thrust into her mouth.
Ruth attempted to suffocate Patty, who fought back. Ruth finally got a knife from the kitchen and ended it. Sitting atop her victim, she thrust the knife three times into Patty's chest.
She departed, leaving Heather and Eric with their mother's body. Ruth returned to the house the next morning, before her crime had been discovered. Eric told her: "Mommy is dead. Mommy is dead."
Ruth had resented Patty's custody of the children and her husband's support payments. Police quickly arrested Ruth, who confessed and was sentenced to life in prison shortly before Ohio revived the death penalty.
Heather and Eric grew up under the care of their maternal grandmother, who was granted custody, and always assumed that Ruth Papay would never be free.
On Jan. 1, Heather received an email from an automated system that Papay was up for a parole hearing, another hearing in a succession that had never succeeded. She didn't pay much attention.
This time though, a parole board member interviewed Papay and thought she deserved to be freed. Her release date was set for this past Monday. The notification system did not generate another email. Nor is it supposed to.
Bret Vinocur, a Columbus resident with a passion to keep "the worst of the worst" behind bars through his blockparole.com website, noticed that Papay was set for release. He tracked down Heather and Eric's grandmother.
"I have helped block over 40 paroles. This is certainly one of the most, if not the most, heinous murders I've ever seen," Vinocur said.
Because Heather filed an objection, the parole board will bring Papay's case before the full board for study and a vote today.
Eric Papay was taken to his mother's funeral. Three decades later, through the deaths of friends and family, he still can't bring himself to attend another.
The little boy who hid under the bed now is 34 years old and lives in Jacksonville, Fla. He can't afford to attend today's hearing.
"It was premeditated murder, cold-blooded. Somebody involved in heinous crime like this should never see the light of day.
"I would tell her: You killed my mom. You destroyed so many lives ... It has destroyed my entire life. It has mentally affected me my entire life. Only the past few years have I been able to function as a man."
Heather, now 31, was expected to be at today's parole hearing. She will tell of a lifetime of trauma. "Even though Eric was only 4, he felt he should have done something," she said.
Her mother's murderer, now 50, deserves no freedom, she said. "It's horrific, very scary; and a lot of people are terrified."
Eric hopes to object to Papay's release in a conference call with the parole-board members. Learning that his mother's killer will stay in prison might make the memories a little more distant, a little less painful, he said.
"I'm just learning to put things out of my mind. I've got to move on."
By Randy Ludlow - The Columbus Dispatch (MCT)
Copyright (c) 2011, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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