NEW PORT RICHEY — Kraig Constantino, accused of beating and stabbing a man he suspected of trying to hit on his girlfriend, took a plea deal Thursday that let him walk away convicted but free.
He got time served.
Constantino is a felon with a long history of arrests. But he had this going for him: He testified in December in the retrial of neo-Nazi John Ditullio, who was accused of stabbing a woman and killing a teenager in a hate-fueled rampage in 2006.
Ditullio first went to trial in 2009, but the jury deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
Constantino didn't testify then. In the second trial, he took the stand and told jurors that while he and Ditullio were housed together in the Pasco County Jail, Ditullio confessed to his crimes. Constantino said Ditullio bragged about the photographs from the crime scene and expressed amazement at how easily his knife penetrated a young boy's skull.
Ditullio, who maintained his innocence, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
His attorney, Bjorn Brunvand, said he wasn't surprised to learn of the plea deal Constantino got.
"Our belief is that was his reward for his testimony against Ditullio," Brunvand said.
He also thinks Constantino lied.
"Ditullio was there for almost five years and all of sudden this guy comes up with this?" Brunvand said. "No. He said what he had to say to get his deal with the state, and now he has his deal."
Constantino almost didn't take it.
After the prosecutor announced to the judge that there was an agreement in the case, Constantino, 41, broke in and said he wanted a trial date.
"I just can't take the conviction," he said.
Constantino was originally charged with attempted murder. The victim in the case, Richard Bernhardt, had several teeth knocked out and required stitches inside his mouth, according to court documents.
Circuit Judge Michael Andrews reminded Constantino that he was only out of jail because of his agreement with prosecutors. If he backed out, he could be locked up again until his trial.
"Well," Constantino said, "you drive a hard bargain. Let's go ahead."
He raised his right hand slowly, then pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of felony battery and was sentenced to the 1,002 days he previously spent in jail. That exceeded state sentencing guidelines, prosecutors said.
Andrews imposed $657 in court fees, which Constantino asked to be waived "so I can start my life over."
Andrews said he couldn't do it, and Constantino said he understood.
"Thank you, your honor," he said before getting fingerprinted. "It's been a pleasure."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.