NEW PORT RICHEY — As attorneys on Monday began the slow, meticulous process of picking jurors to decide his fate, neo-Nazi John Ditullio sat watching, the tattoos on his face and neck hidden by powder and makeup.
Ditullio was living with an American Nazi group near Hudson in 2006 when authorities say he broke into the next-door neighbor's home and stabbed two people. One died.
Now 24, he is on trial for the second time, charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. While awaiting trial in jail, he got tattoos of a swastika and the words "f--- you" burned onto his neck. Jurors won't see them, though, after a judge agreed to have them covered each day by a makeup artist, at a cost to taxpayers of $125 a day.
It came up in jury selection.
"I didn't think it was right that the taxpayers should have to foot the bill for that," one woman told the judge.
The makeup issue — which pits a defendant's right to a fair trial against fair use of public money — prompted a story Monday in the New York Times and other national media outlets.
It also angered the mother of Kristofer King, the 17-year-old killed in the attack.
"This is part of who (Ditullio) is. This is what the jury should see. And if the jury is afraid, they should be," Charlene Bricken, King's mother, told the St. Petersburg Times during Ditullio's trial last year.
That trial lasted a week and ended with a deadlocked jury, which voted 10-2 in favor of acquittal.
Authorities say the neo-Nazi group Ditullio was living with on Teak Street in Griffin Park adhered to white supremacist beliefs, and they hated the neighbors next door. Patricia Wells had an African-American friend who visited her, and her son was gay.
After weeks of harassing Wells and her family, shouting slurs and threats, one night Ditullio acted on them, authorities say. On March 23, 2006, he covered his face with a gas mask, broke into Wells' home and stabbed her, authorities say. King, a friend of her son, was in the house and was also stabbed. Wells recovered. Her son was not at home.
Ditullio and his attorneys say the real killer is Shawn Plott, another member of the Nazi group who is now a fugitive.
In this week's retrial, prosecutors plan to call a new witness: Kraig Constantino, who came forward earlier this year saying that Ditullio had admitted to him in jail that he stabbed two people.
Constantino claims that Ditullio said he stabbed Wells because she was dating an African-American man and they sold crack cocaine; and Ditullio said he turned the knife on King when he came to Wells' aid. Constantino has numerous arrests on his record, including a pending charge of aggravated battery in which he is accused of beating a man with a board and stabbing him with a pocketknife.
New on the defense side: Attorney Bjorn Brunvand wants to use cardboard cutouts that depict the height and clothing of Ditullio, Plott and another man, Ron James.
Wells says the person who stabbed her was wearing a white T-shirt and khaki pants and was "a lot smaller" than her friend James, who is 6 foot 1. Ditullio had on red and black that day, witnesses said, and is the same height as James. Plott is 5 feet 8.
Brunvand hoped to use the cutouts to illustrate the discrepancies for jurors.
But Circuit Judge Michael Andrews said he won't allow the cutouts to show clothing or faces. He said blank cutouts depicting only height could be used.
Jury selection continues today. Ditullio faces a possible death sentence.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.