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Hung jury, mistrial in Pasco neo-Nazi murder trial

Assistant state attorney Mike Halkitis, left, and defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand walk out of the courtroom Friday night after jurors said they couldn’t reach a verdict.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Assistant state attorney Mike Halkitis, left, and defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand walk out of the courtroom Friday night after jurors said they couldn’t reach a verdict.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Jurors in the murder trial of neo-Nazi John Ditullio deliberated for nearly 10 hours Friday before announcing their conclusion:

They were hopelessly deadlocked.

Ten jurors believed Ditullio was not guilty and two held out for guilt, the foreman said.

Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, who urged them earlier in the evening to keep deliberating, was forced to declare a mistrial.

"Obviously you tried hard," he told them.

The 12-member panel couldn't agree on whether Ditullio, 23, was the masked man who stabbed two people in a mobile home on Teak Street in New Port Richey, killing one of them.

He was charged with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder. Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, are expected to retry him.

The attack happened just after midnight on March 23, 2006. Patricia Wells lay dozing on her couch when a man with a gas mask over his face burst in and lunged at her with a knife. For weeks, Wells had endured harassment from the American Nazi compound next door, where swastikas and rebel flags adorned the single-wide trailer. The men there shouted epithets and threatened her life because she had a black friend who visited often and her son was openly gay.

Wells, now 48, testified that she ran into a back bedroom, where Kristofer King, a 17-year-old friend of her son, was using a computer. The attacker cornered her between two pieces of furniture, slashing her in the face and arms. When King tried to run, the masked man went after him. The teen died of multiple stab wounds to his skull.

The prosecution said DNA and Ditullio's own writings implicated him in the crime. Former neo-Nazi Cory Patnode testified said he saw Ditullio in the compound moments after the stabbings, holding a knife.

"Basically he told me, word for word, 'I killed them, I killed them both, stabbed them in the face,' " Patnode testified.

The defense contended that Ditullio, a low-ranking recruit in the American Nazis, was made the fall guy for the stabbings, and that the real killer is Shawn Plott, 37, another member who became a fugitive two years ago when he skipped out on his drug offender probation.

Key to that claim: Wells testified her attacker wore a white T-shirt and khaki pants. Witnesses put Plott in that kind of clothing. Ditullio wore a red shirt and black pants the night of the crime and the morning he was arrested, he and other witnesses said.

Ditullio's attorneys called a last-minute witness Friday. Samantha Troupe, who lived at the compound on and off since age 12, said she talked to Plott about a year after the stabbings. Plott's girlfriend had called Troupe over to babysit.

Plott came home at one point, Troupe said, and they began talking about the murder and how it had ruined the friendships among the American Nazi group.

Then, Troupe testified, "Shawn said to me that he kind of feels bad because he did this, and he feels bad that a kid has to go away for this. But it's okay because he never would have made it as a Nazi."

Prosecutors said DNA on Ditullio's shoe and the attacker's gas mask tied him to the crime. But the defense argued that the drop of Wells' blood could have gotten on Ditullio's boot when deputies led him out of the compound, through the street where Wells ran, screaming and bleeding, after the attack. The gas mask worn by the killer contained a DNA sample that wasn't matched to a specific person but did not exclude Ditullio or Plott.

Prosecutor Mike Halkitis told jurors that Ditullio's own writings after the crime were so incriminating, they could "convict this defendant based on his words alone."

A notebook found in the compound after Ditullio's arrest contained a letter he wrote during the standoff. He called the police outside "pigs" and said he would shoot them "until my hand stops working."

During Ditullio's lengthy testimony on Thursday, however, he explained: "I was real upset. I was angry and scared."

In a letter he later sent to his father from jail, Ditullio wrote, "All this is my fault. These are my actions." Ditullio told jurors he was accepting responsibility for associating with bad people, not admitting to the stabbings.

Perhaps the most damning evidence was a card he sent to King's father that said, "I hope your Christmas is full of memories of your dead gay son. Merry f------ Christmas."

Ditullio told jurors he was lashing out for comments the family had made about him to a newspaper.

"I feel so bad for it," he said. "I was just mad, and I was upset that they thought I really did this. It doesn't make sense to me now."

Charlene Bricken, King's mother, was too upset to comment after the mistrial. Wells had already left as the hours dragged on.

Ditullio's family was uplifted by the outcome, and his mother hugged his attorney, Bjorn Brunvand.

"With a 10-2 for acquittal, I'm disappointed," Brunvand said. "We'll come back and do it again and hopefully it'll be 12-0 for not guilty, and they'll realize he's innocent of these charges."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Hung jury, mistrial in Pasco neo-Nazi murder trial 12/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 9:50am]
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