LARGO — About 30 friends and family members of Samantha MacQuilliam came to court wearing purple, her favorite color, as they waited to see whether Matthew Dieterle would be convicted of murdering her.
They hugged and broke into tears on Friday after the jury pronounced him guilty and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Federico commented on the "overwhelming physical evidence in the case" against Dieterle, who was portrayed as a jealous boyfriend who savagely attacked 23-year-old MacQuilliam in a home near Lake Tarpon that they shared with two roommates. Federico referred to the "absolutely horrible acts against this young lady. It just is totally unconscionable."
Federico also said the evidence that Dieterle tried to cover his tracks and throw suspicion to others destroyed any possibility of an insanity defense, which defense attorneys had previously discussed.
"I'm relieved," said MacQuilliam's mother, Sue Modica, who came to the trial from Maryland along with several others. "It's been a long time coming." The verdict, she said, was "basically just an affirmation of what we already knew."
Dieterle killed McQuilliam "when he beat her, when he strangled her, when he slit her throat, when he stabbed her multiple times," Assistant State Attorney Kelly McKnight told the jury.
Dieterle and MacQuilliam were both from Maryland and moved to Florida when she enrolled at the University of Tampa, where she was studying to become a pediatric nurse.
In May 2007, Dieterle beat MacQuilliam when he believed she had cheated on him, prosecutors said. They broke up. But Dieterle was desperate to get back together with her, even calling her mother and asking how to find her.
Dieterle's mother urged him to move on. Instead, the two got back together and lived with two roommates in a house in unincorporated Pinellas County near Lake Tarpon.
But then in late July he again suspected she was cheating. On Aug. 1 he called numerous polygraph examiners from his cell phone, apparently to see if she would take a lie detector test to prove herself.
But later that day, prosecutors said, Dieterle killed her. She was found by a roommate in the bathtub.
The evidence that Dieterle killed her was overwhelming, Assistant State Attorney Michael Marr told jurors. Dieterle's bloody hand prints were found inside the bathroom, and the blood on one of those prints was found to be "consistent with" MacQuilliam's blood.
Also critical, Marr said, was a pair of blood-spattered shorts found in the bathroom. They were draped over a towel rack as though they had been there all through the attack. Witnesses said they had seen Dieterle wearing the shorts that morning. And the shorts had bloodstains on the front and back, which wouldn't have happened if they had merely been resting on the towel rack, Marr said.
"The murderer was wearing those shorts," Marr said. "And who was wearing those shorts? This man, Matthew Dieterle."
Defense attorney Bryan Hannan challenged the idea that anyone would commit a murder, go to the trouble of cleaning parts of the house, but leave the shorts hanging on the rack for police to find.
Dieterle, 26, chose not to testify on his own behalf.
Hannan attacked the investigation into the case as well.
"There's reasonable doubt in every aspect of this case," he said.
Hannan said there was no DNA evidence that proved the blood on the handprints belonged to MacQuilliam. He said there were several other pieces of evidence that could have been tested by the Pinellas Sheriff's Office,
Although purple is a color that has been used in domestic violence awareness campaigns, it also happened to be MacQuilliam's favorite color, right down to the purple teddy bear she had as a baby. That's why many of her supporters wore that color on Friday
Following suit, Assistant State Attorney Marr wore a purple tie and fellow prosecutor McKnight wore a purple blouse as they made their final arguments to the jury.