Sixteen years ago, a robber wielding a six-pound steel hand tool crushed Toledoan Jim Portentoso s face over 92 packs of cigarettes.
He also robbed Mr. Portentoso of his sight, balance, senses of smell and taste, and his very personality.
“He went from a person I knew and loved to a complete stranger who didn t even know my name,” his wife, Jane, said.
Last month, the injuries Mr. Portentoso sustained in that brutal attack on a snowy January night in 1988 apparently robbed Mr. Portentoso of his life.
The death of Mr. Portentoso, 75, on Oct. 9 from pneumonia and other complications has been ruled a homicide by the Lucas County coroner s office. His health problems, Lucas County deputy coroner Dr. Cynthia Beisser said, are “an unbroken line” to the beating on Jan. 24, 1988, at Licata s Sunoco, 3557 Monroe St.
His attacker, Tyrone Terry, now 48, is incarcerated at the state s Marion Correctional Institution. He was granted parole Sept. 10 and was scheduled to be released yesterday - the same day the family received Mr. Portentoso s death certificate.
But the state parole board was notified of the death and has temporarily placed his release on hold. On Thursday, the board will decide whether to give Terry a full hearing to decide his fate, said Jo Ellen Culp, of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
If they decline a full hearing, Terry would be released automatically, she said.
“I don t want him out to do this to another family,” Mr. Portentoso s son, Jim, said. “This man, this jerk, took it all away from us in one night.”
In a way, Jim Portentoso said, Terry has twice taken his father s life.
It was 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 24, 1988, when Mr. Portentoso joined police at his nephew s service station, which he d managed for more than two years, after a security alarm was tripped.
Mr. Portentoso and two responding officers searched the station, which had been broken into. Although the cigarette rack and a pay window had been tampered with, they found no one in the building. Officers left, but Mr. Portentoso remained.
Exactly what happened next is unclear, in part because Mr. Portentoso could never remember. But investigators figured Terry had been hiding inside a cabinet during the search.
Sitting at a desk, Mr. Portentoso most likely heard a noise and turned. It was then that Terry apparently slammed the steel tool into Mr. Portentoso s head, shattering bone, smashing parts of his brain, and burying one of his eyes deep into his skull.
The burglar alarm, triggered again about 45 minutes after the initial alarm, sent police back to the station. In the meantime, Mrs. Portentoso had called the station, worried that her husband that she d met on a blind date more than 35 years earlier hadn t returned home.
She remembered later that the phone rang 26 times - she d counted - before it picked up.
She heard erratic breathing. Then nothing.
I said Jim, do something for me. I need you to do this. Hang up the phone, ” she said. He did; she dialed 911.
Mr. Portentoso would spend months in a coma, eventually surfacing with no memory of the attack, his children, or his wife.
His one eye remained sunken and useless. He fell a lot. Memories returned sporadically. Conversations wandered.
But worst of all, the injuries killed his personality, Mrs. Portentoso said.
“Before [the attack] he d been the kindest, gentlest, sweetest person. He treated me like his queen,” she told The Blade yesterday in an interview from her South Toledo home, her voice hacked by tears. “But after that, he had no inhibitions. He had a temper. He had bad language. Sometimes, we weren t sure if he was really here with us.”
He became a great-grandfather in the next years. Sometimes he knew that. Often days he did not.
Six months after the attack, Terry was convicted by Lucas County Common Pleas Court Judge William Skow of felonious assault, robbery, and carrying a concealed weapon.
Saying it was difficult for “the court to convey its revulsion and horror,” the judge sentenced Terry to up to 45 years in prison.
Toledo police Lt. Rick Reed said investigators will review the case in light of Mr. Portentoso s death.
But Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said so-called “double jeopardy” rules that prohibit trying a suspect twice in connection with the same crime would most likely preclude charging Terry with murder in the death.