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Hernando rampage: Victim's daughters offer emotional testimony

BROOKSVILLE — On Jan. 14, 2010, John Kalisz walked into a home west of Brooksville and shot Deborah Tillotson, a woman he didn't know, four times. On that clear, warm afternoon, she died.

The next day, Nicole DiConsiglio turned 28. A gift and two birthday cards from Tillotson — her mother — arrived in the mail.

Kalisz was convicted Monday of killing Tillotson and his sister, Kathryn "Kitty" Donovan, in Donovan's home on Wilhelm Road. He also shot his niece, Manessa Donovan, and Amy Green, an employee at Kitty Donovan's home-based business.

On Wednesday, the trial entered the penalty phase, and Tillotson's daughters provided the proceedings' most stirring testimony as prosecutor Pete Magrino made his case for the death penalty and public defender Devon Sharkey fought to save Kalisz's life.

Her cheeks flush, DiConsiglio spoke through tears. Four jurors sobbed with her and, from behind watery eyes and runny noses, a line of family members looked on from the courtroom's second row. As two deputies in the back of the room also cried, the bailiff handed them a box of tissues.

Kalisz, slouched in his chair, never reacted.

A necklace in the shape of an angel's wing hung from DiConsiglio's neck. It reminds the quiet, red-headed woman that her mother is in heaven.

Tillotson was her best friend, she told the court. They made crafts and had "scrapbook weekends" together. They loved the same movies, especially Field of Dreams, and quoted the same old lines over and over. Tillotson helped her daughter duct tape the dresser drawers in her first college dorm. Together, they created the centerpieces and favors for DiConsiglio's wedding. When the young woman found a dress, Tillotson cried.

Shopping in her mother's favorite stores still makes her sad. Sometimes when she sees things Tillotson would have wanted, she reaches for them.

DiConsiglio last saw her mother 12 days before she died. They met at a Cracker Barrel in Clermont, halfway between her home in Orlando and Tillotson's in Brooksville.

Her mother was late because, on her way there, she picked up a soaking wet stray beagle and drove it home to its owner. They laughed together in person for a final time as DiConsiglio sprayed the inside of her mother's car with air freshener.

When she finished speaking to jurors, her sister, Lauren Tillotson, addressed the court.

"I love you," Nicole said as they passed.

"I love you, too," Lauren responded.

Though more brief, Lauren Tillotson's words about her mother were also more pointed.

"She didn't die peacefully, in her sleep, of old age. She didn't pass comfortably in a hospital bed surrounded by her family. She didn't have cancer that took her away from us, and she wasn't lost in an automobile accident. She was gunned down, ruthlessly and mercilessly," she told jurors. "Her last moments were spent in terror and in pain."

Jurors for the first time also heard testimony about Kalisz's murder of Dixie County sheriff's Capt. Chad Reed, who was shot trying to arrest him that afternoon in Cross City.

In his opening statement, Sharkey told the court he hoped testimony from Kalisz's friends, families and a forensic psychologist would perhaps explain, but not justify, Kalisz's murderous rampage. A death sentence, he also told jurors, just isn't necessary.

"John Kalisz will only leave Florida State Prison in a pine box," he said. "That is his destiny, no matter what your recommendation is in this case."

Crying often, Kalisz's two sisters talked about his years of homelessness, recovery from alcoholism and the two decades of support he gave to other alcoholics. They also discussed his rapid decline, beginning in late 2008, into apparent depression and, ultimately, the killings.

Today, Sharkey is expected to call at least three more people, including the psychologist and a former prison warden, before jurors begin to deliberate.

Times photojournalist Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Reach John Woodrow Cox at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@tampabay.com.

Hernando rampage: Victim's daughters offer emotional testimony 01/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 10:43pm]
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