About 6:30 on a sunny autumn morning, a man high on methamphetamine wandered aimlessly through a San Jose residential neighborhood, prowling through yards, testing back doors. When one clicked open, nineteen-year-old Marcus Allen Paden slipped inside the home of Suzanne and Tom Marotti. Noises. Sinking down through levels of consciousness. Strange sounds that gradually became voices fading in and out. Suzanne Marotti was sleeping in one of her kids’ bedrooms to get away from her husband Tom’s snoring. But this wasn’t snoring. Maybe the kids had turned on the TV. The voices became louder. Swearing. Screaming.
All Suzanne Marotti ever wanted was to be a princess. In her early 20s, she was a carefree girl who would hop into a friend’s car at midnight and head off to Los Angeles just for fun. A jewelry saleswoman, Suzanne earned a good salary and liked to spend it.
Then Tom Marotti strolled into the store to buy a ring. Suzanne was immediately attracted to his body-builder physique and confident manner. He asked her out. She told him she didn’t date customers. But he kept asking. And a fiery romance followed.
Tom, a construction foreman, was used to women who were seen and not heard. Suzanne said he could forget that attitude. “Nobody is going to tell me what to do.”
And so they married.
Suzanne ran toward the screaming in the master bedroom. She stopped in shock at the doorway. An intruder was holding a knife to Tom’s throat.
“Who the hell are you?” Suzanne yelled in disbelief. The stranger didn’t respond. “Don’t hurt him!” she pleaded. “He can’t even walk. Look, there’s a wheelchair.”
The moment he glanced to the side, Suzanne charged. She jumped on the bed and grabbed his wrist. “Who are you? What do you want?” she cried.
“You better back off!” the man said.
Though he was unable to move, it was not in Tom’s nature to back down. He tried to draw attention away from Suzanne, growling, “Go ahead. Do it, man. Come on. Bring it on!” That’s the way he would have reacted before the MS, and he wasn’t afraid now.
The commotion had also awakened Tommy, nine, who appeared at the bedroom door. Seeing the nightmarish scene inside, he began crying, “Please don’t hurt my dad!”
“Go get Todd!” Suzanne yelled to her son.
In a downstairs bedroom, Todd Leach had also heard noises. At first he thought it was the TV or the Marottis having an argument. But there was an unfamiliar voice-and then a loud thud. Todd got up from bed to check it out and hurried to the master bedroom.
One look through the double doors and he froze. Tom was on the floor. A stranger was on the bed threatening Suzanne with a knife. He was tall, wiry, and had a wild look in his eyes.
“Todd, get him!” Suzanne cried.
Paden panicked and shot off the bed, knocking past Todd into the hallway, where Tommy was. The boy ran to his brother’s bedroom and dived under the bad. Paden chased him and swiped his knife in a wide are underneath, just missing the child.
Paden jumped onto the toilet, perhaps thinking he could get out a small window above. He had one arm hooked around Matthew’s throat-the little boy dangled in midair, his face contorted with fear. Suzanne and Todd came to an abrupt halt in the doorway.
“Back off, bitch! I’m going to kill him,” Paden said to Suzanne. “You better get away.”
“You hurt him, I swear I will kill you myself,” she said
Todd tried to calm him. “It’s okay. You don’t have to do this,” he said, holding out open hands, speaking soothingly. But as he stepped forward, the attacker grew more agitated. He pressed the knife to Suzanne’s neck.
“I’m going to kill you. Don’t move.”
“Get the kids away!” Suzanne screamed. “Get the kids out!” And, as if in a dream, she watched Todd back away with
Matthew and slowly dose the bathroom door.
Sgt. Robert St. Amour was in early that morning. A member of the San Jose Police Department’s Violent Crime Enforcement Team, he was preparing to issue an arrest warrant in another case when the emergency call came in.
Moments later he had cars rolling-lights flashing, sirens at full wail-to the Marottis’ house. St. Amour listened to the details on the police band: Assailant has broken into the home. Unknown male with a female hostage. Has a knife to her throat. Woman is fighting him off
St. Amour had been a police officer for 23 years. He knew the odds. Would the woman be alive when he got there?
“I’m cool, man. I won’t fight you anymore,” Suzanne told her captor. “Just don’t hurt me.” She had turned instinctively to a strategy she used selling jewelry. Be friendly. Keep talking.
“I am going to hurt you,” Paden told her. “You better shut up.”
“What do you want?”
“They’re after me.” He moved to a corner, dragging her by the hair.
Suzanne’s mouth was dry. She had to keep him talking. “Do you smoke? I could really use a smoke.”
“No, man, no pot. Cigarettes.” She tried for a light tone.
“What do you want? What are you doing here?”
“They’re after me. They’re going to kill me. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to kill you too.” Paden’s eyes darted up and down, looking at the bathroom window. Again he pulled Suzanne across the floor by the hair.
“You’re hurting me!” she screamed, and tried to hit him.
Paden banged her head against the bathroom counter.
As Suzanne whimpered in agony, Paden’s mood changed. “I’m just a girl,” she told him. “Don’t you have any sisters?”
She could see a small glimmer of life in his face.
“Yeah, I have a sister.”
“You wouldn’t want anybody to hurt her, would you?” She tried another tack. “You came to the wrong house. My name is Suzanne. We’re the Marottis. What’s your name?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he replied. “I’m already dead because I told. Now I’m taking you with me.”
After calling 911, Todd ran to the bathroom and eased the door open. That agitated the intruder. Suzanne begged him to stay out. So he backed away and went to Tom. He picked him up and lifted him gently onto the bed.
“Do something!” Tom pleaded. “Bust the door down.”
Todd was in a quandary. What could he do? He decided it was best to check outside to see if the cops were coming.
“Drop to your knees!” came a shouted command. Three policemen, two in front, one in back, had arrived and were covering the house. Todd fell to the ground, his hands in the air.
Paden was becoming ever more erratic. He pulled the top off the toilet tank and tried to barricade the window, but ended up smashing it. Glass fragments showered the floor. Suzanne was lying in them.
“I can hide you,” she said, suddenly remembering that he had claimed someone was after him. “I’ve got an attic. There’s stairs. I’ll shut you in. They’ll never find you.”
At first he was silent. “What do you mean, you’ve got an attic?”
Suzanne told him she would hide him in the rafters where no one would look for him. She kept stalling for time.
As she was spinning out her tale, she heard footsteps in the hall. Paden heard them too. He jumped into the bathtub. Clenching her hair, he tried to drag Suzanne in with him. But she screamed with everything left in her.
The door burst open and Sergeant St. Amour and two officers crashed in. Stunned, Paden dropped his knife. But as the officers pulled him from the bathtub, he began to fight. St. Amour and the other cops wrestled him to the floor and bound his legs together.
During the scuffle, Suzanne crawled to safety. She was bloody, but alive. Her husband was alive. Her children were alive. She had fought with everything she had. And at last it was over.
Marcus Allen Paden spent several months undergoing treatment in a state psychiatric hospital. He then pleaded guilty ‘to 12 felonies, including four charges of assault with a deadly weapon, four charges of felony false imprisonment and four charges of criminal threats. He also pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor of being under the influence of methamphetamine, which may explain in part his aberrant behavior on the day of the break-in.
For her instinctive response, quick action and courage, Suzanne Marotti received awards and accolades from the California State Senate and the San Jose Police Department. But the sweetest praise came from her husband, Tom. Knowing how the woman he loved had grown through illness and incredible testing, he said: “Seeing how she reacted to hardship made me love her even more. If there’s anyone tougher than me, she is.”