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John Kalisz found guilty of murders, may face death penalty in Hernando trial

BROOKSVILLE — Just hours before John Kalisz was convicted Monday of murdering two women and attempting to murder two others, prosecutor Pete Magrino described to jurors for a final time how the defendant had killed Deborah Tillotson.

Her husband, Lee, listened on a bench in the courtroom's second row. Leaning forward, his head rested in his hands with his eyes fixed on the floor. Across the nearby bar, Kalisz didn't seem to notice what Magrino said. With a blue pen on a yellow note pad, he doodled hundreds of arrows into a chaotic maze.

On Jan. 14, 2010, Kalisz killed Tillotson and his sister, Kathryn "Kitty" Donovan, in Donovan's home on Wilhelm Road, west of Brooksville. He also shot his niece, Manessa Donovan, and Amy Green, an employee at Donovan's home-based business.

The jury found him guilty on all counts in just 96 minutes. In the Hernando Circuit Court trial's penalty phase, scheduled to begin Wednesday, prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

"We lost a very special lady," Lee Tillotson said moments after the jury began deliberations. The couple had been married for 32 years.

Kalisz has already been sentenced to life for the murder of Dixie County sheriff's Capt. Chad Reed, who was shot trying to arrest him in Cross City. Dixie Sheriff Dewey Hatcher Sr., his arms crossed, looked on from the front row Monday evening as the decision was read. Hatcher had wanted Kalisz to be executed for Reed's murder and said he hopes this jury recommends that the 57-year-old get a death sentence.

"You know what I want," he said. "I can't lie."

During closing arguments earlier in the day, Magrino chronologically reviewed the four days of damning evidence and testimony he had presented to the court. He emphasized statements Kalisz had made to his friend Todd Linville, the night before the killings.

"I hate my sister," Magrino paraphrased for jurors. "I'm going to take out my sister and her family. … They ruined my life, I'm going to get revenge and ruin theirs."

Kalisz's public defender, Alan Fanter, had argued that his client should be convicted only of second-degree murder.

When Kalisz's mobile home burned down just days before the shootings, the attorney told jurors, the defendant quit thinking.

"At that point in time, John shut down the thought processes and was overcome by hatred," Fanter said. "He had absolutely nothing to live for but revenge."

In his closing argument, Fanter acknowledged that Kalisz fatally shot the two women and tried to kill the two others, but insisted the crimes were not premeditated.

"When you apply the facts to the law, again, you're going to have to stop when you get to second-degree murder," he said. "It's reflection versus blind rage."

Magrino dismissed Fanter's argument.

"My first year in law school, I had a professor who said when the facts are with you and the law is against you, you argue the facts; when the facts are against you and the law is with you, you argue the law; when the facts are against you and the law is against you, you just go ahead and argue," Magrino told jurors. "And that's what you just heard — a whole lot of argument from Mr. Fanter."

Kalisz, as he has throughout much of the trial, seemed uninterested in either side's presentation. As Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. instructed jurors on laws that applied to the charges, Kalisz appeared to dig a pen into his hand. Blood trickled down his finger. A deputy handed him a paper towel.

Even in the moments when, separately, Green and Manessa Donovan sat on the witness stand and angrily described how he fired round after round into their bodies, Kalisz never reacted.

Only once in five days did he show emotion — when Linville took the stand, called Kalisz a friend and smiled at him, and the murder defendant smiled back.

Times photographer Will Vragovic contributed to this report. Reach John Woodrow Cox at jcox@tampabay.com.

John Kalisz found guilty of murders, may face death penalty in Hernando trial 01/23/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:03am]
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