Killer prison admission: veterinarian stabbed for being gay; he could ‘be my best friend’ today

STATEN ISLAND, NY – In a recent hearing before a state parole board, Michael Taylor admitted that he and an accomplice targeted their victim, Navy veteran James (Jimmy) Zappalorti, on a street from Charleston 30 years ago because the victim was gay.

In that same interview, Taylor, who was convicted of stabbing Zappalorti to death with a hunting knife, also told parole board members that his take on homosexuality had changed over the decades.

If the victim was alive today, the two might even be friends, Taylor said, according to a transcript of the interview.

“I got older and started to think about a lot of things as I got older,” Taylor told the board according to a transcript of the interview. “This guy might end up being my best friend, you never know.”

Taylor said he was “a stupid young boy”, barely 20, when he killed the victim.

The parole board was not convinced.

The panel again denied Taylor, 51, parole, citing concerns about his “repeated criminal behavior” and accusing him of mercilessly killing Zappalorti, 44, who had served in the Vietnam War.

“Your actions were heinous and a total disregard for human life,” the board wrote. “This panel is interested in your extremely violent nature as well as your continued behavior that you have adopted during and after the commission of your crime.”

“The record indicates that you, along with your co-accused, stabbed the victim several times with a hunting knife,” the board said. “The victim never threatened you.

James Zappalorti, the victim, served in the Navy from 1962 to 1965, according to an Advance article after his murder. (Advance from Staten Island)

Taylor, who is serving a 23-year life sentence for the Zappalorti murder, will remain behind bars for at least two more years. He has now been denied parole five times.

Taylor and Philip Sarlo savagely killed Zappalorti on the night of January 22, 1990.

Zappalorti was the first murder victim on Staten Island whose murder was officially designated as a crime of bias committed because of his sexual preference.


Zappalorti was a gentle man who lived in a secluded hut he had built near Arthur Kill near his parents’ house.

According to Advance reports, Taylor and Sarlo docked Zappalorti, intending to steal him.

The victim met his killers at a grocery store where he bought beer, Advance said. They accompanied him as he made his way to his hut, and after drinking beer and talking, Taylor pulled out a hunting knife.

1990 Vietnamese gay veteran murderer denied parole for fifth time

This 1990 photo shows a wreath made by Michael Zappalorti standing near his brother James’ beach house in Charleston.

Taylor demanded the $ 200 that he and Sarlo believed the victim had in his possession. In response, Zappalorti threw his wallet into the weeds nearby. Taylor, enraged, stabbed him, according to Advance reports.

Taylor, who stabbed the victim three times in the abdomen, told authorities he “didn’t like queers,” Advance reported.

The duo rummaged through Zappalorti’s pockets, took $ 40 and the keys to his parents’ house, and dragged his body to the edge of the Arthur Kill.

Subsequently, they entered the house of the victim’s parents and ransacked Zappalorti’s room. When his mother confronted them, they said they were expecting her son and gave him the keys.

One of Zappalorti’s brothers found his body in the morning.

Each accused ultimately pleaded guilty to second degree murder.

Sarlo died in prison in 1997 at the age of 33.

Robert Zappalorti, a brother of the victim, wrote a book about his brother and the ordeal of his family, titled “Stained Glass Window: The Life and Death of Jimmy Zappalorti”, published by Words Take Flight Books.

Robert Zappalorti previously told Advance / that Sarlo apologized to the victim’s family upon his conviction, but Taylor was silent.

1990 Vietnamese gay veteran murderer denied parole for fifth time

Michael Taylor, seen in this NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision photo several years ago, is serving a 23-year life sentence for killing James Zappalorti in January 1990.


During the parole interview, Taylor said he did not intend to kill the victim. He said he knew Zappalorti from the neighborhood.

“He never really did anything to me,” Taylor said. “It was just that night that we didn’t have any money, so we decided – It wasn’t to kill him, though.”

However, Taylor did not explain why the encounter turned fatal.

But he admitted that he and Sarlo went to the victim’s home right after the murder.

After entering, the two men walked past Zappalorti’s mother, who was sitting in a wheelchair and watching television.

“It’s quite daring, don’t you think, to walk into someone else’s house like that above you who murdered their son?” A parole commissioner asked Taylor. “I mean, is that the kind of person you were back then?” “

“I was – I was also partially stupid to do something like that,” Taylor replied.

In its rejection, the board praised Taylor for his “personal growth and productive use of time” while incarcerated.

Taylor has completed a number of programs in prison and has been found to be at low risk of re-arrest.

1990 Vietnamese gay veteran murderer denied parole for fifth time

It might not have been very beautiful, but James Zappalorti loved the peace and serenity of this waterfront until he was brutally murdered outside his cabin in Charleston on January 22, 1990 (Staten Island Advance / Michael Falco)

However, the panel did point out a few red flags. Specifically, Taylor had disciplinary issues during his incarceration, as well as a checkered criminal history.

Prior to killing Zappalorti, Taylor was convicted of participating in a violent robbery and burglary in separate incidents, according to the transcript.

Further, the panel said there was “both official and community opposition” to Taylor’s release.

“You were on parole when you committed the snapshot offenses,” the commission wrote. “This repeated criminal behavior is of concern to this panel. … A review of your records and your interview led the panel to conclude that your release would be incompatible with the well-being of society and would downgrade the gravity of your crime to such an extent as to undermine respect for the law. “

Taylor can reapply for parole in October 2022.

1990 Vietnamese gay veteran murderer denied parole for fifth time

The Staten Island Advance front page of January 24, 1990 reports the shocking murder. (Advance from Staten Island)

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About Teresa G. Wilson

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