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Pasco judge approves makeup to cover neo-Nazi's tattoos during murder trial

NEW PORT RICHEY — Taxpayers will foot the bill for a makeup artist to cover up some potentially offensive tattoos on the face and neck of a neo-Nazi during his murder trial slated for next week.

Circuit Judge Michael Andrews said he would allow a licensed cosmetologist to be brought in an hour before each day's proceedings to cover up tattoos that John Allen Ditullio Jr. acquired since his arrest in connection with the March 23, 2006 stabbing of 17-year-old Kristofer King.

"This on the side says 'f--- you,' (and) is very offensive regardless of whether he had it (at the time of the crime) or didn't have it," defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand argued in court Friday.

Brunvand told the Times that Ditullio, while in jail, acquired a tattoo that looks like a barbed wire going down one side of his face. He also got a swastika tattoo on his neck, too high up to be covered by a shirt collar.

The problem, Brunvand says, is that the average person on a jury might be "either offended or intimidated and maybe frightened by these tattoos." Brunvand is concerned the tattoos – not the evidence-- might lead the jurors to suspect Ditullio is guilty.

In other words, the tattoos could prejudice a jury, even though they "have nothing to do with the facts of the case," Brunvand told the Times.

Brunvand argued in court Friday that the neo-Nazi group Ditullio was affiliated with wore uniforms but "that doesn't mean you have to wear it in court."

State Attorney Mike Halkitis said the makeup should be limited to tattoos obtained after Ditullio's arrest in the 2006 stabbing. He argued that prejudice wasn't a good enough reason to cover all of Ditullio's tattoos.

"Everything he did that day was prejudicial," he said.

Andrews granted the motion with little comment except to say the makeup artist's name would have to be submitted in order to undergo standard background checks and must arrive an hour early before court begins.

The tattoos that Ditullio had before his 2006 arrest — including a small cross under one eye and tears by the other — will not be covered up.

Ditullio faces charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder. Deputies say he put on a gas mask, broke into neighbor Patricia Wells' home in west Pasco County, stabbed her and killed King, who was visiting.

Wells told authorities the neo-Nazis terrorized her because she was frequently visited by a black acquaintance. Investigators say they found Wells' blood on Ditullio's shoe. His American Nazi buddies told detectives they saw Ditullio return to their clubhouse the night of the stabbing, wearing a gas mask and saying he just stabbed the neighbors.

Ditullio is awaiting trial, and state prosecutors want the death penalty. Jury selection is set to begin Monday.

Ditullio was one of several neo-Nazis arrested after the stabbing on various charges, demolishing the membership of the Teak Street neo-Nazis, who lived in a swastika-draped clubhouse next door to Wells' home.

Concerned that Ditullio's tattooed appearance could prejudice the jury, Brunvand has arranged for a licensed cosmetologist to come each day to put make-up over the tattoos.

In a previous hearing in Pinellas County, Chief Judge Thomas McGrady authorized spending up to $150 per day for the cosmetologist, but only if Andrews — the trial judge — ruled that it was necessary, court spokesman Ron Stuart said.

Brunvand said he had never before asked for a courtroom cosmetologist. But he said it's not all that different from other accommodations made to ensure defendants get fair trials. Criminal defendants are routinely allowed to change out of their jail scrubs and into business suits for their trials.

Staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report.

This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: Kristofer King was stabbed to death in 2006 next door to a neo-Nazi clubhouse in Pasco County. His first name was misspelled in a story Saturday.

Pasco judge approves makeup to cover neo-Nazi's tattoos during murder trial 12/04/09 [Last modified: Monday, December 7, 2009 5:45pm]
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