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, Zone was held hostage for more than four hours last fall by the son, Kenneth Kimes, during an interview at a state prison.
But she decided to tough it out, after a couple of weeks' recovery time. The segment on her ordeal is easily the most gripping part of "Murderous Mother, Deadly Son," airing at 9 p.m. Monday on Court TV.
"I was determined I wasn't going to let Kenny Kimes, this villain, get the best of me," said 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 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.
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 said.
Two weeks before interviewing Kenneth, she had an off-camera meeting with Sante at another state prison.
"She gave me the creeps," Zone said. "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."
Zone had met Kenneth 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 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 Zone and said she was his hostage.
Kimes demanded that New York prison authorities block his extradition to California, where he and his mother were also 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 Zone's neck. Court TV got the image because Zone had brought her personal video camera and a corrections officer picked it up and started shooting. Kimes angrily ordered the camera shut off.
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 wouldn't hurt her, but 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 said. "We were both sweating on each other. It was totally disgusting."
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. Zone ran away. She didn't look back.
There wasn't any question that 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 said. "You just have to keep your objectivity when you can."