INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — With his large frame hunched over a desk, Paul Komyatti Jr. excitedly flips through an old photo album, pointing out the different pictures of him over the last three decades. There's one of his cat that he raised from a kitten. Another is with an old girlfriend. And there's a shot of him with his buddies, striking a macho pose.
What's unusual is that every photo was taken from the same place: prison.
Komyatti was sent into the Indiana correctional system as a teenager in 1983. Next week, he's scheduled to emerge as a free man at age 44. There will be no family to greet him as he takes his first steps back into society. They were all convicted for their roles in the 1983 murder of Komyatti's father, Paul Sr., who was stabbed and decapitated as he slept in his Hammond home.
Komyatti was 17 the night he held his dad's legs down while his brother-in-law stabbed him more than 30 times with a fishing knife. Komyatti was sentenced to 100 years in prison -- 55 years for murder and 45 years for conspiracy, to be served concurrently. Good behavior and education credits are leading to his early release. Now 6 foot 5, and weighing 235 pounds, Komyatti is a lifetime away from who he was then. "Most of my memories are from behind four walls," said Komyatti, in an interview with the Tribune. "Prison is like an entirely different world. It's like going to a foreign country where I do speak the language, but I have to assimilate into the culture."
He's starting to get his affairs in order. Since being moved to a transitional work-release center in September, he has signed a lease for an apartment and obtained a driver's permit and library card.
But the society he'll rejoin barely resembles the one he left, where phones were attached to cords, his car came with an 8-track player and newspapers were delivered in the evenings. Komyatti barely knows how to use a cell phone, and recently tried the Internet for the first time. He has learned that some things in life are not like riding a bike -- he literally had to relearn how to ride a bike.
While in prison, Komyatti earned a bachelor's degree in history from Ball State University, with honors, and two associate degrees, in criminal justice and general studies. He paid tuition through an education program offered to the correctional system.
He has a job in the retail sector and hopes to land a second job before summer, but he's wary about pursuing a career in the corporate world.He knows he would essentially be wearing a scarlet letter along with a tie.
"They don't know me," he said. "They know one particular act."
In 1983, Komyatti was a senior at Morton High School. He earned good grades, played football and planned on going into the Air Force after graduation.
But he had a secret. His family was planning to murder his father.
According to court records, Paul Sr. "was a strict and domineering father and husband" and "on occasion drank to excess and was loud and violent." Komyatti said he was beaten so badly by his father that as a child he stuttered. His mother, he said, would take him and run away to her sister's home. But his father would always come after them, Komyatti said.
"There were occasions where he would stick a gun next to my head and he'd say he'd blow my head off if she didn't come home," he said.
For weeks, Paul Jr., his mother, sister and brother-in-law tried poisoning him, contaminating his medication and food. But when that failed, they hatched a new plan, which they implemented on March 20.
As Paul Sr. slept, Komyatti and his brother-in-law crept into his room to render him unconscious with ether and inject air into his veins, making his death look like a heart attack. But during the assault, Paul Sr. woke up -- reportedly yelling, "Son, son, can't we work something out?" -- as his daughter shut the door to muffle the cries, according to court records.
Tom Vanes, a former Lake County, Ind., prosecutor, remembers that he saw no remorse from family members, including Komyatti, during the initial weeks of the investigation.
"There was something missing in the kid," Vanes said. "There was not the reaction you would expect to see for a kid who helped bury his dad. No love, no remorse, no empathy, no hesitation."
Komyatti admits there was no love for his father, but he said that doesn't excuse or justify what they did. "I didn't think there was any other options," he said.
When he first got to prison, he was rebellious and quickly racked up violations, such as refusing to obey orders and encouraging others to riot. He tried to escape. When he was 25 he was sent to the Westville Correctional Facility, the state's most notorious prison, where he stayed on and off for the next four years.
"If you're in prison, and you're looking at never getting out of prison, then you have absolutely nothing to lose," Komyatti said.
But it was at the most secure facility where he bought a book about prisoners' rights. Soon, he was protesting prison conditions and the treatment of inmates. He went on hunger strikes and filed lawsuits.
But then in 1995, it dawned on him: "I might get out one day." So he set out on a new path toward religion and education. Komyatti isn't sure what he's looking forward to most upon his release.
"Some guys say they want a bath. Not that you're dirty, but in prison you only get showers," he said. "I look forward to playing some handball. Maybe going to the park. I might just go over to White River and jump in the river."
Gerald Waite, an anthropology professor at Ball State, teaches inmates at the prison and has known Komyatti for 12 years.
"He's probably one of my favorite students. He's extremely capable, extremely versatile, extremely smart and charismatic. ... When he gets out, he hasn't got much life experience in the world we live in. I think he'll adapt, but it will really test his patience."
Based on statistics, Komyatti has a good shot of never going back to jail. According to a 2004 study by The Sentencing Project, four out of five people sentenced from "a number of years" to life in prison are not rearrested when released.
"Crime is a young persons' pursuit; we know that people age out of crime," said Ryan King, a policy analyst.
Komyatti doesn't spend time thinking about what he did as a young man, but rather what he can accomplish as a free man.
"You might say I wish I had done this, or wish I had done that, or I wish I hadn't done this," he said.
"At the same time, I don't dwell on them because there's nothing I can do about it. I learned from my past. You learn from your past, you don't repeat it."
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TIMELINE OF A FAMILY MURDER
Paul Komyatti Jr. and three family members were convicted for their roles in the 1983 murder of Komyatti's father, Paul Sr., who was stabbed and decapitated in his Hammond home.
The dismembered body of the 65-year-old retired construction worker turned up in garbage bags along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The crime horrified the region because of its brutality and the family's conspiracy. At the time, the Tribune wrote, "The only relative in the house who wasn't plotting Paul Komyatti's murder in Hammond last winter was his 5-year-old grandson."
Paul Komyatti Jr. was sentenced to 100 years in prison -- 55 years for murder and 45 years for conspiracy -- to be served concurrently.
His 83-year-old mother, Rosemary, isn't scheduled to be released from prison until 2033. He hasn't seen his older sister, Mariann, since she testified against him in court; she received eight years in a plea deal. And his brother-in-law, William Vandiver, was executed almost 25 years ago for his role as ringleader in the family plot.