The 21 January 2017 Women’s Marches across the U.S. and other countries were far larger in size than anyone (including their organizers) had anticipated and enjoyed the support of many high-profile activists, some of whom spoke at various events. One such speaker was Donna Hylton, an activist and advocate for incarcerated and at-risk women who appeared at the Women’s March on Washington, self-described as follows on her web site:
My name is Donna Hylton but for twenty-seven years I was known as Inmate #86G0206.
In 1986 I was sentenced to 25 years-to-life for kidnapping and second-degree murder. I served the time at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, the only maximum-security prison for women in New York State, and was released in 2012.
My lifelong journey is one of many emotional and physical prisons; I went from abused child to repeated rape victim to desperate teen mother to solitary confinement where the boundary of my world was a 6’x10” cinder block room. It’s a story of tremendous pain and suffering, but it’s also a love story about freedom, hope, survival, sisterhood, redemption, and forgiveness. It’s about learning to love myself and fight for myself and for others.
Since my first day of freedom, I’ve been talking to politicians, to violent abusers, to teenagers, to prison officials, to victims, and to students to tell my story and the thousands of stories belonging to women not free to speak because they are silenced, behind bars, or dead.
Shortly afterwards, image macros such as the following were circulated, noting aspects of Hylton’s background that many people (especially younger ones) were unfamiliar with:
Throughout her speech at the Women’s March on Washington (seen at approximately the 12:40 mark in the video embedded below), Hylton described herself as “inmate #86G0206” and stated that she served 25 years in prison, although she did not proffer details of why she was incarcerated:
Hylton received a sentence of 25-to-life on second-degree murder charges for her part in the killing, was released after serving 27 years of that sentence, subsequently earned a bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Science and a master’s degree in English from Mercy College, and now works as an activist, public speaker, and community health advocate for Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s.
How much of a role Hylton took in the killing of Vigliarolo is unclear, even thirty years later. She was the one who delivered a ransom note to a friend of Vigliarolo’s (an act that led to her capture), but those involved in prosecuting the murder case described her role as “secondary” and tagged others as the “true malefactors”:
In retrospect, says Mel Paroff, law secretary to Judge Torres, “[Hylton] was a secondary character, not a mastermind. She didn’t realize the gravity of what she was involved in.” [New York City Detective William] Spurling agrees: “I don’t think the girls were hard-core. They thought they could use their beauty to get what they wanted.”
Hylton’s defense attorney, Richard Siracusa, notes that [Louis] Miranda, who died in jail not long after, “was really crazy and didn’t really care what happened. He had a bad heart, he knew he was dying; he just didn’t care. The victim had a horrible death — he died of suffocation — and when they brought the trunk into the courtroom it still smelled.
“Miranda and Woodie [George Pace] and [Maria] Talag were hard-core; we found S&M lesbian magazines in Talag’s apartment; she was a dominatrix. But we used to call the three girls the Pointer Sisters. These girls had all these unrealistic ambitions — to get into showbiz. I really felt those three were separate and apart from the true malefactors in the case, who were Woodie, Selma [Price], and Miranda. But the judge didn’t cut anybody any slack. He’s usually a maximum sentencer to begin with, and this case had some notoriety.”
Despite the implication of the image reproduced above (which pointedly mentions that Vigliarolo was homosexual), we’ve found no indication that the victim’s sexual orientation was a factor in the crime. Louis Miranda reportedly targeted Vigliarolo for allegedly cheating him out of a share of money gleaned from a scam, and Hylton’s reported motivation for taking part in the crime was a promised $9,000 share:
The victim was 62-year-old Thomas Vigliarole, a balding real-estate broker cum con man whose partner in crime, Louis Miranda, thought Vigliarole had swindled him out of $139,000 on a mutual con. The two men had sold shares in a New York City condo and meant to pocket the money for themselves, but Miranda hadn’t gotten his share.
Ultimately, Miranda would ask for a ransom of over $400,000 — even after the victim had died. He never got it. Maria Talag, who according to Donna called Miranda her godfather, invited Donna and two friends, Rita and Theresa, to participate in the crime. Their cut was to be $9,000 each; Donna wanted hers to pay for a picture portfolio to help her break into modeling.
In any case, Hylton’s background — including her description of herself as a victim of neglect and abuse, the role she played in Vigliarolo’s killing, and the propriety of the sentence she received — is a complex one, and much of the available information about is necessarily of a self-reported nature. The most thorough treatment of it we’ve found so far was published in a 1995 Psychology Today profile.