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A Life Less Fortunate

A troubled mind leads to a troubling murder.


As a child, Anthony Foster didn't have much to smile about. So he didn't.

He came into the world in 1955, the son of two schizophrenics. Mom Rosa sometimes had a grip on reality. Most of the time she didn't.

Twin sister Antoinette suffered from a learning disability. While other kids were reading about green eggs and ham, she was just trying to make out the letters on the page. They looked like alphabet soup.

Older sister Rosetta tried to hold the family together, but she had enough problems warding off the demon sleeping in the next room.

That was Henry Foster. Dad. A man with a quick temper -- and an unnatural affection for Rosetta. He liked to knock his wife around, both verbally and physically. Sometimes he stormed into the kids' rooms screaming.

Antoinette used to stay awake at night, entertaining thoughts a little girl shouldn't. "I used to lie in bed and think about killing him," she says in a voice barely above a whisper. "I got tired of him hurting my mom. I got tired of him hurting my sister."

And he made life for little Anthony hell. To Henry, belts were used for more than holding up pants. "He acted like he really hated Tony," Antoinette says.

Henry didn't like having another mouth to feed. Didn't like his kid being cross-eyed. Didn't like the way the boy looked at him all fucked up. So Henry liked to hurt and humiliate his son. When Anthony was about four, Henry made him parade outside the home in a diaper because he didn't want Anthony to forget that he caught him acting like a baby. No, Henry Foster didn't like Anthony. Not one fucking bit.

It all changed when the police came. Around Rosetta's 13th birthday, and after molesting her for almost a decade, Henry was charged with sexual abuse. He got shipped to prison for three years.

It was a Pyrrhic victory. The Foster children escaped their father. But with a mom who couldn't take care of herself, the kids started shuffling through the system. Group homes. Foster care. An aunt with a spare bed.

Anthony continued to live in fear that his dad, like a creature in a horror movie who keeps coming back, would return to terrorize him. Years later, Rosetta heard that upon his release from prison, Henry moved to Seattle, where he committed suicide. When she told Anthony, he made Rosetta offer proof. He wouldn't believe her until she sent a copy of the death certificate.

His 18th birthday halted his group home tour. He survived his first trip in the system by outgrowing it. So did Rosetta. She started school at Tri-C and worked at the Karamu House theater on East 89th.

Anthony found his solace in church. Sunday services. Bible study. Prayer meetings. Most days he'd arrive two hours early just to make sure he wasn't late. He had a thing about being late. Better to stand in the rain for two hours than miss a second in the House of the Lord.

But that's when the voices began arriving. They were the kind only he could hear. Some people at church considered them attacks by the devil. Doctors called it schizophrenia.

Rosetta first learned that her brother had inherited their parents' disease while in the middle of a conversation with him. Anthony began screaming and yelling at images only he could see. Rosetta drove him to the emergency room.

Another time, she walked in on Anthony as he screamed and swung at the air, channeling Muhammad Ali.

"I'm the boss," he shouted. "If old Henry comes back, this is what I'll do to him," he said with a flurry of jabs. Again she took him to the emergency room.

Antoinette first noticed the illness when Anthony got up and walked to a faucet. He turned on the hot water and let it run over his hand. The steam began to rise, and the water reached scalding. Anthony remained frozen with his hand underneath.

By this time, God had become Anthony's life. Antipsychotic meds were his crutch. He leaned on both to quiet the voices in his head.

Reverend Albert Robinson could sense he'd found a kindred spirit, the first time he saw the gentle-looking man who wore a suit and hardly spoke. They gathered at a New Year's Eve church service to kick off the '90s.

Robinson knew the man by the company he kept. "The only people you would see him associate with were older saints of God," Robinson says.

And the deacons found in Anthony an eager disciple who, though now in his mid-30s, had a childlike passion for the Bible. After turning to church around the time the voices came, he developed no other interests besides God. Conversations about the Browns and Cavaliers meant nothing. He'd stand in silence until the topic gravitated toward the heavens.

"You would not know he had a mental disorder in those days, unless someone told you," says Robinson, whose voice carries the rasp of a blues singer.

Scripture so consumed Anthony that he would sometimes call Robinson at 3 a.m. to ask questions. The pastor would remind him of the time, tell him to call back in the morning. Anthony would apologize. Then Robinson would get another call three hours later.

Anthony endeared himself to the congregation. He had a kid-like stubbornness that was part of his charm. At times, he'd act like a child who wanted a toy and pouted if he couldn't get it. But he also had a quick smile that, even at middle age, disarmed grandmothers and deacons alike.

His wardrobe started evolving. Blazers and ties became the norm. His shoes were shined to reflection. His closet filled with suit jackets in cream, blue, and purple. And with a regular social-service check coming due to his illness, his independence also grew. He got a bus pass that allowed him to travel the city on his own. He even got his own room in Lupica Towers, a subsidized apartment complex equipped with its own social worker.

But with the independence came problems.

The first of the police reports relating to Anthony W. Foster dates back to December 22, 1992. A fight started. Anthony said the man walked over and punched him. The man said Anthony punched him first.

Regardless of which version is true, the fight left Anthony with a broken nose and a trip to the ER. The next incident was much worse.

On September 18, 1997, police were called to a disturbance near Lupica Towers. When they arrived, they found Anthony lying on his back, unconscious. No witnesses. Police later got a tip that Anthony had been hit in the head with a hammer.

The blow sent him back to the emergency room. This time he stayed. Doctors inserted a steel plate in his head. The attack affected Anthony's motor skills. Though his mind remained stable, his speech was slurred. He had to relearn how to walk. His relatives noticed another change.

"There was a time Anthony wouldn't bite his tongue," Rosetta says. Now "he would weigh his words before he said anything."

In June 1999, police were called back to Lupica Towers. A resident told officers that Anthony was arguing with another tenant and screaming at a three-year-old girl in the lobby. Police approached as Anthony sat in a TV room. He refused to tell them anything, then got up to leave. They told him he was under arrest.

As officers tried to settle the situation, Anthony got up again. "I don't care -- I am leaving," he told them. They wrestled him to the ground. He was later sent to a diversion program, after which prosecutors agreed to drop the charges.

Anthony avoided legal trouble for the next seven years. But last November 15, police say 61-year-old Arnita Hasting was standing by an elevator at Lupica when she and Anthony began arguing. She told police she was intoxicated. She claimed Anthony punched her in the face.

Anthony admitted to hitting the woman. He said Hasting had called him names. He also told officers about his schizophrenia and that he wasn't right at the time. In the report, the arresting cop wrote that Anthony "was visibly mental."

The road to Northcoast Behavioral Healthcare is lined with trees. The Northfield facility consists of several buildings across a 133-acre campus. Before it became an institution for the mentally ill, it was a farm that produced dairy products, meat, and produce shipped to what used to be Cleveland State Hospital.

It now houses 165 residents -- a mix of voluntary and court-ordered patients -- divided into six units. About 80 percent are people who've been redirected from the court system. During the day, patients freely walk the grounds for appointments or job detail or to visit the cafeteria. There is no fence. The facility has its own police force.

After receiving an evaluation following the fight with the woman at Lupica, a judged ruled Anthony not guilty by reason of insanity. He was instead sent to Northcoast for an evaluation.

Residents are classified at different levels that establish their freedom. They all come in at level 1, where they are assessed by doctors and nurses. Level 2 patients are restricted to their unit. At level 3, they can sign in and out and start a work program. At level 4, they can be escorted into town to shop.

Within weeks, Anthony had moved to level 3, says his attorney, Michael Wolpert. Soon after Anthony was committed, Wolpert filed a motion to get him released. He had driven to Northcoast twice to check on his client. Anthony seemed to be doing well. That changed when Wolpert arrived for his third visit in early March.

The lawyer was led to the nursing station and told that Anthony was no longer there. He'd been sent elsewhere, but staff wouldn't elaborate, Wolpert says. Left unsaid was that Anthony's new home was the medical examiner's office.

On March 2, Anthony was sitting in a Northcoast dining hall when the blows began, pounding and vicious. They came without warning from the man seated next to him.

At first, the staff thought his injuries weren't life-threatening, says Sergeant Brett Gockstetter of the state police. He was conscious. They called an ambulance. But on the way to Sagamore Hills Medical Center, Anthony started having seizures. The beating had caused severe brain trauma. He died at the hospital an hour after the attack.

Northcoast won't talk about the circumstances surrounding Anthony's death, and no charges have been filed. "It's going to be a little different than a normal homicide," says Gockstetter. "There's just one suspect, and it's still ongoing. It's pretty cut and dry."

What isn't so cut and dry is the quandary police are in. What do you do with a murder most likely triggered by a psychotic episode? More than a month has passed, and the police still don't have an answer to that.

The killing has left Anthony's friends and family mourning his loss, wondering if his life could've been saved.

"I don't blame that boy who hit him," says Robinson. "It was the demon inside of that boy."

On the day Anthony was buried, friends and relatives congregated at Greater Strong Tower Apostolic Church. Mother Rosa, now wheelchair-bound, was brought from her nursing home to see her son one last time. Sister Antoinette flew in from Minnesota. Rosetta arrived from North Carolina, where she was on a business trip.

They moved to the front row, several feet from the gray casket. Anthony wore a blue suit with a crisp white handkerchief. Pastor Robinson addressed the crowd. He spoke of the silver lining in Anthony's untimely departure.

"No more bad diagnoses," Robinson screamed. "No more re-evaluations. He done laid his burdens down."

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