NEW PORT RICHEY — It took two trials, but neo-Nazi John Ditullio was convicted Wednesday evening of a 2006 murderous rampage, fueled by racial hatred, that injured a woman and left a teenager dead.
Ditullio, 24, remained stone-faced when the verdicts were read, hanging his head slightly. He had taken the witness stand two days earlier, maintaining his innocence and blaming the double stabbing on another member of the group of American Nazis he was living with, who flew Nazi flags and harassed the neighbors next door.
Jurors took more than seven hours to find Ditullio guilty of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. Now he faces either life in prison or the death penalty when he is sentenced today.
Patricia Wells moved to Teak Street with her son, who is gay, in December 2005 and almost immediately started getting threatened and harassed by the neo-Nazis. She had an African-American friend who visited, which prompted them to label her "n----- lover." Kristofer King, a friend of her son, was staying over one night when a man in a gas mask broke in, stabbed Wells in the face and hands and killed King with knife blows to the head.
Wells, 49, cried "tears of joy" when the verdict was read. "Ditullio has been guilty all along," she said afterward. "He has known it. He has said it in letters. He has said it in poems. He's the guilty one. It's proven."
When Ditullio went to trial last year, the jury deadlocked, leaning 10-2 toward acquittal.
This year, prosecutors presented a second DNA analyst who matched a blood sample on Ditullio's boot to Wells. The first analyst who tested the sample contaminated it with her own DNA.
They also called John Berry, who was vice president of the neo-Nazi group, to testify about what happened that night. His version of events matched that of Cory Patnode, the group's treasurer. Both men said they were outside when they saw a man in a gas mask hop the fence between their house and Wells' and run into the neo-Nazi compound. When they followed inside, Ditullio blurted out, "I killed them both. I stabbed them in the head."
Everyone else fled, but Ditullio remained holed up in the compound overnight, with SWAT members surrounding the place. During the night he wrote a letter to his neo-Nazi brothers, declaring he would "rather be killed than to live with those n------ forever."
After his arrest, he sent a Christmas card to King's parents, telling them "hope your Christmas is filled with memories of your dead gay son."
But Ditullio said his writings were misinterpreted. The card, which he said he regretted sending, was written out of frustration for being falsely accused.
He blamed the stabbings on Shawn Plott, who more closely matched the description of the attacker Wells provided to investigators. He was smaller, with blond hair and had been seen wearing a white T-shirt that night. Ditullio, who is tall with dark hair, had on the group's uniform colors of red and black when he was arrested the morning after.
Ditullio, who was a prospect in the neo-Nazi group vying for full membership, testified that he was being hazed by his brothers that night. They had put Xanax in his whiskey drink, then taunted him to stay awake. As he was passing out on the couch, he said Plott, looking shaken, came in and tossed him the gas mask.
Plott is now listed as a fugitive.
The case, more than four years running, drew national attention over the question of whether someone who holds Ditullio's beliefs could get a fair trial. He has a swastika and the words "f--- you" on his neck and a barbed wire running down the side of his face.
Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, who will sentence Ditullio, agreed with his defense attorney to have them covered with makeup so the jury would decide his case only on the evidence.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.