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Anger of victim's family erupts at killer Nick Seriganis' hearing in Pasco

NEW PORT RICHEY — They finally had their chance to confront Nick Seriganis, the man accused of bludgeoning Vincent Santoro III to death with a dumbbell. But none of Santoro's relatives said anything that seemed to sink in.

Not the weeping mother, who told Seriganis that he had no right to take her son from her.

Not the sister, who called him a reckless soul.

Not the father, who vowed never to let him rest, even in the afterlife.

"You're no good, you're cold, you're crude, you're a coward and you're a punk," Vincent Santoro Jr. told the handcuffed defendant.

Seriganis barely looked at any of them.

Without ever saying why, he came to court Friday to plead guilty to a first-degree murder charge that will send him to prison for the rest of his life. He has no chance for parole.

Seriganis was staying at the Holiday Lake Estates home of Santoro III when the two of them got into an argument Sept. 15. Authorities say Seriganis struck Santoro, 24, with a 20-pound dumbbell, killing him.

Seriganis fled to Louisiana after telling a friend that he had done something bad and had to leave. Once in custody, he told a fellow inmate that he had struck Santoro at least 10 times.

During Friday's hearing, Seriganis, 28, rocked back and forth in his chair and frequently stared at the ceiling. It was not until a Santoro family friend, Eliot Bloom, began speaking that Seriganis showed any reaction.

Bloom, who is a criminal defense attorney, told Seriganis that he is worthless — an animal who can never be rehabilitated, only locked away.

Records show that Seriganis served earlier prison stints for burglary and a sex crime on a child, and he has a conviction as a sexual predator.

"You have truly never offered one positive thing to society," Bloom said.

And then Seriganis held his tongue no longer.

"Mr. Santoro was a (expletive) drug dealer," Seriganis said. "Do you understand that?"

The words ignited a fire in the dead man's father.

Suddenly, Santoro Jr. was trying to push past his family to reach his son's killer. Two inmates seated next to Seriganis scrambled to get away. Bailiffs flooded the courtroom.

"Shut him up or I will," the father warned.

Amid the chaos, Circuit Judge Shawn Crane calmly ordered Seriganis, who had continued talking, to keep quiet, saying he would have his chance to be heard.

But Seriganis never spoke again. The judge sentenced him using the formal language of the legal system. Crane offered no lecture of his own, letting the victim's family say it all.

Outside court, Santoro's father was still bristling from Seriganis' words. He said the drug claim was hearsay, never proven.

State records show that in 2006 the younger Santoro was convicted on a charge of selling marijuana and served a few months in prison. That's where he met Seriganis.

With the abrupt end to the case, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis reassured Santoro's family members of what they had been spared — the inevitable delays, the pain of a trial, the endless appeals.

What they won on Friday, Halkitis told them, was closure.

"It's just a shame," he said, "that it ever had to happen."

Anger of victim's family erupts at killer Nick Seriganis' hearing in Pasco 04/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 7:57pm]
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