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Her burden: 'I took a man's life'

In an interview, the woman who killed a neighbor as he attacked her says her "almost perfect'' life is now over.


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 12, 2000

LAND O'LAKES -- For Maria Pittaras, life seemed to fall into place when she moved into the Turtle Lakes subdivision. A new dream home, a new GMC Jimmy and neighbors who welcomed the 28-year-old chemist with open arms.

"It was almost perfect, living here, my first house," said Pittaras. "I loved it from the first moment I saw it. I told all my friends how much I loved it here."

That perfect life changed forever about 2 a.m. Wednesday when neighbor Robert Metz, wearing a white mesh bag over his head, broke into her home, jumped on top of her and held a knife to her throat, Pasco sheriff's investigators said. Pittaras grabbed a .38-caliber handgun from her nightstand and shot Metz in the neck, killing him almost instantly.

"I understand that I did what I had to do, but I'm never going to be a normal person again," Pittaras said Friday in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "Every day, I'm going to have to come to terms that I took a man's life, a man with a family."

Sitting in a plastic chair under the covered archway in front of her house, a visibly shaken Pittaras said she longs for the day when she won't be haunted by what happened.

"I know I will eventually, someday, put my life back together," she said. "I know I'll get past this, but I'll never forget about it. And I don't think I'll ever stop wondering why it had to happen."

For Pittaras, who moved to the subdivision in March, part of the confusion is that the 47-year-old Metz, who lived four houses away, was one of the first neighbors to greet her.

"He came into my back yard to talk to me, said he lived a few doors down and was a handyman," Pittaras said. "He seemed like a wonderful neighbor.

"I don't understand it, the way everybody described him as such a normal person, friendly and caring," Pittaras said. "I still can't believe it was the same man."

Pittaras told detectives she fired two shots. The first shot misfired into a wall; the second struck Metz in the neck.

The Sheriff's Office has cleared Pittaras of any wrongdoing, saying she acted in self-defense.

For Pittaras, it's not that simple.

Metz's wife, Carolyn, expressed sympathy for Pittaras on Friday.

"I know it's not going to be easy for her," Carolyn Metz said. "But she shouldn't feel guilty."

When asked to talk about the shooting, Pittaras began to cry. After a long pause, she said it would be too painful. She said she has not even discussed the incident with her family and friends.

"I haven't slept," said Pittaras, a chemist for Bausch and Lomb. "I haven't eaten. I feel like I'm frozen."

She returned home Friday to meet with an insurance adjuster about the bullet hole in her wall and other damage from the incident. She hasn't decided yet whether she will sell the house or stay and confront the memories.

She knows her neighbors will see and treat her differently. And she knows they will always talk about what happened at her house.

Al Levins, who lives between Pittaras and the Metzes, hopes she stays.

"I'd like to say to her: "Welcome to the neighborhood,' " Levins said. "I hope she doesn't move away because of this. She seems like such a nice person.

"I feel for her, I tell you," Levins said. "I don't know how she's going to survive."

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