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Inmate testifies on behalf of Smith

DADE CITY — The old proverb says a man is known by the company that he keeps.

What if he's in jail?

Lawrence Joey Smith has been incarcerated for nine years, ever since his arrest and conviction for first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Now facing the death penalty for the 1999 execution-style shootings of two teens that left one dead, he is acting as his own lawyer, using what he learned about the law while behind bars.

He found a character witness there, too.

Which explains why a tattooed young man with a pointed beard, red coveralls and handcuffs appeared Friday on the courtroom video screen.

"Mr. Smith has made me re-evaluate my life and reconstruct my life in a positive way," John Allen Ditullio Jr. told the court. "I've made some mistakes, but I'm definitely not the same person I once was."

By "mistakes" he may have meant charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder. Ditullio was in a New Port Richey neo-Nazi sect when he was charged in the 2006 Teak Street stabbings that left one dead.

Awaiting trial, Ditullio also faces the death penalty. But on Friday he made for a polite, if somewhat disturbing, witness in Smith's new sentencing trial for executing Robert Crawford and nearly killing Stephen Tuttle in 1999.

Smith, 30, must persuade this jury to spare his life. That's why the defense called Ditullio, to testify that Smith has been a positive influence on him in jail.

The two were once "neighbors" in the Land O'Lakes Detention Center's confinement block — where the most dangerous inmates get their own cells.

Ditullio, 21, called Smith a "friend" and a "mentor."

He said Smith is a model prisoner who helps him with "disciplinary problems" inside the jail.

"He counsels me to stay out of trouble," Ditullio said. "You know I still make mistakes here and there. But I'm a whole different person than when I was 19."

Then it was the state's turn.

Ditullio, it turns out, is not a model prisoner.

"In fact you've been written up several times for disciplinary reports?" asked prosecutor Manny Garcia. "In actuality you've been written up 28 times."

"I've also been here two years," Ditullio said.

Then Garcia asked Ditullio why he wore red. Most Pasco County prisoners wear orange and white striped jumpsuits.

"That's because I'm a red-dot," Ditullio said.

Both sides huddled with the judge before jurors were allowed to hear what "red-dot" means.

"The significance is that you're a high-risk inmate," Garcia asked, "is that correct?"

"Yes," Ditullio said.

Jurors weren't allowed to hear about Ditullio's murder charge because it's not relevant to Smith's case. But the judge did let the prosecution ask Ditullio about his criminal record inside the jail, after his 2006 arrest.

They heard that while Ditullio was being "mentored," he was accused of an elaborate escape attempt, of hiding contraband, and last month of breaking a sprinkler head to flood his cell.

"Did Mr. Smith … try to counsel you about these things?" Garcia asked.

"He was upset that I would do something so foolish like that," Ditullio said.

Jurors also never learned why Ditullio wasn't brought to court: He was considered a security risk.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper ended it: "Mr. Ditullio, I'm not going to tell you what I tell the other witnesses, that you're free to go."

Ditullio smiled.

"Thank you," he said.

• • •

Jurors also heard that Smith's father died when he was 10. That his stepfather was an alcoholic who let Smith drink as a 13-year-old. That it led to drugs, and an arrest record stretching back to age 16.

Mary Smith, the defendant's mother, testified about her son's broken childhood.

She said her son was also devastated when his older brother, Tommy, died of cancer in 1999.

On cross-examination, Garcia asked her one difficult question: Didn't Smith's brother die a month after the shootings?

"Yes sir," she said.

Her son will testify on his own behalf on Monday. The case will likely go to jurors Tuesday.

Times staff photographer Mike Pease contributed to this report.

Inmate testifies on behalf of Smith 02/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, February 29, 2008 9:15pm]
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