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Friday, 17 December 2010

Neo-Nazi spared death penalty in 2006 murder (USA)

Convicted killer John Ditullio Jr. returned to court today to learn his sentence.

He dressed in black and refused to allow the application of makeup to cover his offensive tattoos, something that was done each day during his trial.

"I wanted the jury to see me ," he said.

Despite seeing the swastika and the expletive tattooed on Ditullio's neck, the panel of six men and six women deliberated for only about 30 minutes before sparing him a death sentence.

Instead, they recommended he serve life in prison for the 2006 murder of 17-year-old Kristofer King. Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews accepted the sentence, adding a concurrent 15 years behind bars for the attempted murder of Patricia Wells.

King and Wells were attacked inside Wells' Teak Street mobile home. Wells was severely cut on her hands, arms and face but escaped. King, a friend of Wells' son, died of stab wounds to his head.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis contended the crime was motivated by Ditullio's white supremacist beliefs and his association with a neo-Nazi group that congregated at a mobile home next door to Wells.

Halkitis said Wells was attacked because she was friends with a black man and King because he was gay.

The eight-day retrial ended Wednesday with the jury finding Ditullio guilty of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. Ditullio's first trial a year ago ended in a hung jury, with the panel leaning 10-2 toward acquittal.

Ditullio, 24, didn't seem all that bent on avoiding a death penalty. Aside from revealing his tattoos, he didn't allow his attorneys to present evidence of his tough upbringing and mental illness, evidence typically used to help defendants avoid death sentences.

Ditullio also seemed to take a casual attitude when he addressed the jury.

"I'm not going to beg you people for my life or my death," he said. "Do what you do, OK? Life in Florida is death in Florida. But the people that just sat up here and testified that they love me and that they want to be part of my life, that's who I ask you to render your verdict on. Not me."

Ditullio's grandmother, Edith Ditullio, and sister, Cynthia Lewandowski, told the jury they loved him and would continue a relationship with him if he went to prison for life.

Morris Standifer and Adam Jones, convicted felons serving lengthy prison terms, testified Ditullio was their friend when they were in the Land O' Lakes Jail.

Their friendships came despite the fact they are black and Ditullio belonged to a neo-Nazi group.

"I've never heard no racial comments come out of his mouth, ever," Jones said.

Defense attorney Danny Hernandez said jurors should spare his client because he was only 20 at the time of the crime and had no prior felony convictions.

The attack happened just after midnight on March 23, 2006, when a man wearing a gas mask barged into Wells' trailer. He slashed Wells and stabbed King, who was there using a computer.

At trial, defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand argued that Shawn Plott, another member of the neo-Nazi group, committed the stabbings.

Brunvand pointed to Wells' description of her attacker as having blond hair: Plott has blond hair; Ditullio has dark brown hair.

Brunvand also argued that Wells varied on the attacker's height.

Wells' blood was found on the left boot Ditullio was wearing that night. The defense argued that blood taken from the boot should be disregarded because it became contaminated during testing.

But testimony indicated the sample that contained Wells' DNA was not contaminated.

King's mother, Charlene Bricken, wasn't swayed by the defense case. She addressed Ditullio before he was sentenced.

"You know, John, you talked so much about being young and how influenced you were," Bricken said. "But what about Kris, who was 17 years old and 20 days? What chance did he have? And why did you have the right to take his life, or anybody's?

Tampa Bay Online