December 06, 2021
Local News

Joliet man gets 8-year sentence for fatal beating

JOLIET – A Joliet man was sentenced Friday to eight years in prison for fatally beating his mentally disabled brother-in-law.

Though with good behavior, Francis "Frank" Zabala, 55, would only have to serve half that time before being released on parole and has already spent three years in the Will County jail.

"I'm sorry for what happened. I just wish I could turn back the clock. I wish I could trade places with him everyday," Zabala sobbed to Judge Amy Bertani-Tomczak.

On Sept. 22, 2013, Zabala and his then-wife, Janice Zabala, were watching television in their Bergstrom Street home with Janice Zabala's brother, Robert Meredith Jr. Meredith, who had the mental capacity of a 9-year-old, had moved in with the Zabala family after his parents died the year before and had become increasingly disruptive in the household, according to trial testimony.

When Meredith urinated on his clothes and the carpet and refused to clean it up, Frank Zabala hit him with a wooden stick before sending him to "time out." When Meredith chuckled at not having to clean, Frank Zabala "lost it" and punched him several times in the back, according to trial testimony.

"He had three broken ribs on one side, four on the other – all towards his back," Bertani-Tomczak said Friday. "He had to be face down ... unable to fight back."

After hospital staff examined Meredith's injuries, Frank Zabala was arrested and charged with murder. During a trial in November, he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

On Friday, several of Frank Zabala's 15 siblings testified about his good work ethic and generosity. They also noted he'd grown up with a mentally disabled sister.

Defense attorney Chuck Bretz said Frank Zabala's only prior criminal charge was a stop sign violation 20 years ago.

"He's obviously made a very tragic mistake [when he] lost it on that day. He'll never forgive himself for what happened," Bretz said. "His relationship with his children has changed and his marriage has [ended]. There are no winners here. There's been a lot of pain and suffering for the whole family."