NEW PORT RICHEY — Cory Patnode still bears the markings on his skin of the years he spent as an American Nazi. He has since left the group that adhered to the principle of "whites only," but his tattoos of a rebel flag and swastika remain.
Patnode, 30, took the stand Wednesday in the murder trial of John Allen Ditullio, who was a prospective member of the neo-Nazi group living on Teak Street. He told jurors that early on March 23, 2006, he saw a masked man run into the neo-Nazi compound as a woman ran out of the house next door, bloodied and screaming.
Patnode said he went inside the compound and found Ditullio holding a knife.
"I basically cussed a storm and said, 'What the hell did you do now? Now the cops are definitely coming,' " Patnode testified. "Basically he told me, word for word, 'I killed them, I killed them both, stabbed them in the face.' "
But Patricia Wells, now 48, had actually survived the attack, but her son's friend, 17-year-old Kristofer King, died. Ditullio, 23, could face the death penalty if he is convicted of first-degree murder and attempted murder, which authorities say was fueled by bigotry.
Patnode, who is serving time in the Pasco County jail for violating his probation on unrelated charges, talked jurors through the night of the attack. He also described the neo-Nazis' beliefs and lifestyle.
Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand pressed Patnode about his decision to testify against Ditullio. He also wanted to know why, if Patnode was no longer a neo-Nazi, he still has racist and anti-Semitic tattoos.
"I always assumed tattoos are permanent," Patnode said.
"They can be covered up, can they not?" Brunvand asked.
"Yes," Patnode said.
That prompted prosecutor Mike Halkitis to ask: "Did you have the money to hire a makeup artist?"
Brunvand swiftly objected, and Circuit Judge Michael Andrews had the jury removed from the courtroom.
The issues of tattoos and makeup have dominated news coverage of the case since last week, when Andrews allowed the defense to have a taxpayer-funded cosmetologist apply makeup to tattoos on Ditullio's face and neck each morning so the jury won't see them. The tattoos are a barbed wire running down his face, a swastika and the words "f--- you" on his neck.
During jury selection, potential jurors were asked what they knew of the makeup issue. The ones who had heard about it promised to put it out of their minds.
Now, Brunvand said, he feared the jury would be influenced by Halkitis' question.
But Andrews disagreed, saying it didn't reveal anything new.
"The ones who didn't know still don't know," the judge said.
He brought the jury back, and Halkitis asked Patnode again: Did he have money to pay to have his tattoos concealed?
"No," Patnode answered.
Jurors also heard Wednesday from a DNA analyst, who analyzed blood samples from Ditullio's clothes, the gas mask and the fence. Several samples matched Ditullio and Wells. But Brunvand noted that some samples were contaminated with the analyst's DNA, and one item may have contained the DNA of Shawn Plott, another neo-Nazi.
Earlier in his testimony, Patnode described the night of the stabbing. Wells, who lived next to the neo-Nazi compound, had a black friend and a gay son with openly gay friends, all of which sparked the ire of her neighbors.
Patnode said he came home from work to the compound about 5 p.m. March 22. He, Ditullio and a few others began listening to loud music and drinking whiskey.
Patnode said he and member John Berry went outside into the fenced yard. As they stood talking, they heard a popping sound come from next door — the neighbor's tires being slashed. Patnode said he angrily confronted Ditullio about it, fearing it might draw police to the house. Sheriff's deputies were constantly harassing them, he said.
About 20 minutes later, Patnode said, he saw a man wearing a gas mask hop the fence between the two houses and run into the neo-Nazi house. Then Wells ran out of her home, wounded and screaming.
Brunvand questioned Patnode about his motive for testifying.
"You didn't go to law enforcement and provide them with a statement because you had a change of heart?" Brunvand asked.
"No," Patnode said.
"It was only because you were arrested that you gave a statement?" Brunvand asked.
"Yes," Patnode said.
He acknowledged that when he talked to detectives, he was in the presence of Brian "Zero" Buckley, the Nazi group's president whom Patnode had idolized for years.
Brunvand asked about the group's code of silence, which forbade the members, who thought of each other as brothers, from ratting on each other.
Buckley, Plott, Patnode and Berry were considered brothers; Ditullio, merely a prospect who had to guard the fence and take out the trash, was not.
"To this day, you're not ratting on your brethren, are you?" said Brunvand, who has speculated that Ditullio was made to be the fall guy for the crime.
"No, sir," Patnode said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.