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Pilato's Mother Committed To Her Son

Updated: Tuesday, July 16 2013, 11:07 AM EDT

Webster, N.Y. --- Elaine Pilato is listed as a victim in the criminal indictment against her son Michael.  Along with her daughter Elizabeth, Elaine escaped the December 7, 2011 fire Michael set at the family’s Cardile Drive home in Webster.  Michael Pilato, who was just 15 years-old at the time, was charged and convicted of two counts of Attempted Murder.

Last week a jury of nine women and three men also convicted Pilato of murder and arson charges.  He faces a possible sentence of 15 years-to-life in prison.

"Wasn't a good day for me,” Elaine Pilato said of that Thursday when the verdict was read in court.  “I lost all my boys and my husband and I'm not happy.”

Elaine Pilato still lives at 634 Cardile Drive; she renovated the inside of the home and drastically changed the layout of the rooms as well.  Her daughter Elizabeth, now 15, lives with her.  A room at the top of the new stairwell is reserved for Michael.

"He didn't want carpet so it doesn't have carpet,” Elaine said before later pointing out some stuff on his dresser that could be used if he came home and wanted to swim.  “And of course in anticipation of him coming home he has a towel and a matching (inner) tube.”

There is no mistaking Elaine Pilato’s loyalty to her son despite all that has happened.  She admits to being the only member of her family still supporting her son and said even Elizabeth stopped visiting Michael earlier this year. 

“It is the wrong verdict.  It's the wrong, wrong verdict, I'm just not sure how to go about proving it at this stage,” said Elaine.  "If my son could come home tonight I would sleep better.  I am not afraid of him.”

"This was not my son."

Elaine Pilato believes that her son Michael suffered an “Extreme Emotional Disturbance” at the time that he set this fire.  The legal strategy is based on an interpretation of the facts and medical opinions.  Michael’s lawyers deployed that strategy at trial in the hopes of convincing the jury to consider the lesser charge of Manslaughter 1st Degree.

"Why would the jurors come back all upset and crying if they didn't think this kid needed EED?” asked Elaine Pilato.  "He is embarrassed, he's ashamed at what he did I don't think he ever meant to do it.”

Elaine Pilato said she thinks her son may have also been under the influence of bath salts or synthetic drugs in the hours leading up to the fire.  She wonders to what extent those may have impacted his state of mind and she continues to meet with doctors and others who could help her prove it.

"First off I didn't know Michael was so hard on drugs until me and Elizabeth watched him week after week after week shaking uncontrollably, not for weeks for months afterwards,” she said of the observations she made when visiting her son in jail.  "Mike said he didn't smoke but you know what?  I don't buy it I saw so many confused statements that he made and he believes them to be true.  I know he smokes I believe that he was on bath salts that night.”

"My son is worth saving."

Elaine Pilato visited Michael in jail again on Saturday, days after the verdict.  She visits twice a week, every week.  She visited him on Christmas Day for dinner after spending the rest of the day with family.  Throughout the trial Michael Pilato was often described as being emotionless and showing no remorse, but his mother insists that is not the case.

"I've seen him, I've been the one that has gone and talked to him,” said Elaine.  “I've seen him cry, I see his tears I just see his heartbreak.”

The possibility of her son spending the rest of his life in prison now weighs heavy on this mother.  While she works with the lawyers she hired on an appeal and hopes for a light sentence, she is also bracing herself for the maximum and disgusted with the system that handled her son’s case.

"15-years, five-months, and four-days and on something and with a brain that had so many pitfalls in it I think this is so unjust, this is just so unjust,” said Elaine Pilato.  "The system has failed my son so bad and now if (Monroe County Court) Judge (Vincent) DiNolfo goes through with this he is the topping on the cake."

“I didn't save my son Josh.”

Of all the memories Elaine Pilato has from that fire the one that haunts her involves her twelve year-old son Joshua.  He and Peter, 16, were both found in their bedrooms by West Webster Firefighters.

“Joshua, there is no reason why that kid isn't sitting here with me now,” said Elaine.  "I relive it and I know exactly every step that I would've taken now to save my family.”

She recalls waking up to the smoke alarm and rushing to the bedroom door with her husband Carmen who was yelling into the smoke-filled hallway in the hopes of waking his son.

"All this time the only thing this man was yelling was Josh, ‘Joshy please get up and just run, Joshy please get up,’” recalled Elaine. 

"What I really remember is the fact that I didn't save my son Josh because I did have time and that is what I have to live with and I'm finding it very difficult,” said Elaine.  "I walked in front of his room to get out and to get back in, why didn't I stop and pick him up?”

"The first thing I did when I came back in this house was I went and laid on Joshua's bed,” Elaine Pilato then began to cry.  “I'm sorry.”

“He will hurt himself.”

When asked if she thinks her son Michael is prepared for what lies ahead Elaine Pilato is swift in her response.

“Oh no, no,” she said.  “Michael will wind up doing something.”

When asked to elaborate, she again cries.

“He will hurt himself…and nobody seems to understand,” she added.

On July 4th Michael Pilato will turn 17 years-old.  He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 24th.  A year from now, on his 18th birthday, he is likely to enter an adult prison facility in New York State where he will serve out the remainder of his sentence.

"I never wanted him to walk but not spend his whole life (in prison) because you know what?  I'd have to tell him to go ahead and kill himself,” said Elaine while also acknowledging that some family members have wished worse for her son.  “I have a family member that wants him to get raped.”

Interview Notes:

Elaine Pilato shared a handful of cards she received from friends, neighbors, and even a teacher who remain supportive of her situation and loyalty to her son. 

“I have a card from a neighbor down here – ‘I just wanted to send you a note telling you how sorry I am with the outcome of this trial.  I have been praying for you and your family and most especially Michael’ - it goes on… (crying)…I can't read it.”

“There are a good number of people in Webster that have already shown their support and told me stick in there, don't let him down, and I say I'm not going to.”

At trial much was made of Michael’s adoption and his birth mother who was addicted to cocaine.  All four children the Pilato family adopted were born in similar circumstances.  Elaine hopes this does not change anyone’s viewpoints on adoption.

"I would go and adopt tomorrow, don't let this case stop you from adopting.”  When asked if she has thought about adopting again Elaine responded, “It's come across my mind.”

On Thursday after the verdict other members of the family stated that they knew Michael Pilato was to be admitted to a drug treatment facility on the Monday following the fire.  They said he was angry about that and they suspect it played a role in his actions.  Elaine Pilato said none of that is true although the family was exploring options to address Michael’s drug addiction.

Those family members, Carmen’s biological daughters, also said Michael Pilato abused Carmen Pilato and pushed him to the ground on at least one occasion.  "I never, ever saw Michael, God as my witness, saw Michael push my husband to the ground,” said Elaine.

Pilato's Mother Committed To Her Son

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