CLEARWATER — With the retrial of neo-Nazi John Ditullio looming, his court-appointed attorney asked a judge Thursday for approval of money to defend his client in this hate-crime homicide.
The requested funds included, as they typically do, the costs of traveling to take witness depositions — airfare, hotels, rental cars.
But in this case, the expenses go beyond the typical. Other costs the judge approved are a makeup artist to cover up the tattoos on Ditullio's face, neck and hands each day of the trial; and three life-sized cardboard cutouts to portray the height and build of some key figures in the case.
Cost of the makeup artist: $125 a day for up to three weeks.
Cardboard cutouts: $2,175.
"In our country we appoint attorneys" for poor defendants, said Circuit Judge Thomas McGrady, in approving the use of public funds for other defense costs. "Certainly we should have the same due process whether they're indigent or not."
Pasco authorities say that on March 23, 2006, Ditullio donned a gas mask and broke into a neighbor's New Port Richey home, where he stabbed a woman in the face and neck, then attacked a teenager. Patricia Wells was slashed in the face and hands but recovered. Kristofer King, who was 17, died.
Ditullio was a recruit in a small neo-Nazi clan that outfitted a single-wide mobile home like a heavily guarded compound. Wells told authorities that the neo-Nazis harassed her for weeks before the stabbing. She had a black friend who sometimes visited her home, and her son is gay. Authorities think King might have been mistaken for Wells' son.
Ditullio went to trial last December, but the case ended with a jury deadlocked at 10-2 for acquittal. Ditullio, now 24, was facing the death penalty, as he will again when his retrial begins Sept. 27.
He took the stand in his own defense last year, saying that he spent hours that day doing yard work, then came inside and drank something given to him by the other members that was laced with tranquilizers. Outside, he said, he saw Shawn Plott, another member of the group, carrying a bundled-up sweatshirt and looking like "he had seen a ghost."
When he took the stand, the jury then saw a made-up Ditullio — no sign of his tattoos of barbed wire along his face, no swastika and the words "f--- you" weren't visible on his neck.
A judge then also allowed court money to be spent on the makeup artist, and the trial judge, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, approved the request.
Bjorn Brunvand, Ditullio's attorney, argued that the tattoos were so offensive that they — instead of the evidence — could sway jurors toward a guilty verdict.
The tattoos "have nothing to do with the facts of the case," Brunvand said last year.
The judge's ruling upset King's mother, Charlene Bricken.
"This is part of who he is. This is what the jury should see," Bricken said before last year's trial. "And if the jury is afraid, they should be."
• • •
In another high-profile murder trial this year, a cardboard cutout was used to show the victim's size to the jury.
Max Horn was charged with second-degree murder for shooting Joseph Martell after the 2008 Chasco parade. Horn claimed self-defense, saying the 6-feet-6, 328-pound Martell had charged him.
Horn, who was shorter and overweight, was found not guilty.
In Ditullio's case, Brunvand hopes to use the cardboard figures to illustrate a murky identity issue. Because her attacker wore a gas mask, Patricia Wells never saw his face and can identify him only by size. She insists, though, that she had seen Ditullio enough times to know he was the one who stabbed her.
Brunvand — who must still get the trial judge's approval to use the cutout — wants to bring in three of them to depict, with accurate size and height, Ditullio, Shawn Plott and a man named Ron James, an acquaintance of Wells'.
Plott is now a fugitive, and Brunvand said James cannot be located.
Ditullio is 6 feet 1 and 230 pounds, according to Pasco County jail records.
James, Brunvand said, is the same height as Ditullio. In a recorded interview of Wells where James was present, Brunvand said Wells told him the stabber was "a lot shorter than you, Ron."
Plott is listed in jail records as 5 feet 8, 150 pounds.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.