NEW PORT RICHEY
John Ditullio, a neo-Nazi accused in a 2006 double-stabbing that left a teenager dead, faced the group of people Monday called to sit on his jury.
The transformation in his appearance since last week was striking.
Before: a striped jailhouse jumpsuit, long beard and prominent tattoos of a barbed wire along his face, a swastika and the words "f--- you" on his neck.
After: a pressed blue shirt and pants, his beard neatly trimmed and the tattoos obscured behind makeup.
Ditullio, 23, is charged with attempted murder and first-degree murder. On March 23, 2006, Pasco authorities say, he put on a gas mask and broke into a neighbor's home, where he stabbed a woman in the face and neck, then attacked a teenager. Patricia Wells was slashed in the face and hands but recovered from her injuries. Kristofer King, who was 17, died.
Authorities have described the case as a hate crime. Wells told authorities the neo-Nazi group harassed her for weeks before the stabbing. She had a black friend who sometimes visited her home, and her son is gay. Authorities think King might have been mistaken for Wells' son.
Ditullio faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
Last week, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews approved a request from Ditullio's lawyer that a cosmetologist be brought in each day to cover up Ditullio's tattoos, which he acquired while in jail.
Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand said last week that the average juror might be offended or intimidated by them.
It was the judge's ruling that offended King's mother, Charlene Bricken.
"This is part of who he is. This is what the jury should see," said Bricken, 52. "And if the jury is afraid, they should be."
Up to $150 per day of taxpayer money will be used to pay the cosmetologist. Bricken said she would be angry even if it wasn't her son who was murdered.
"The taxpayers should not be paying for this creep," Bricken said.
Brunvand and prosecutor Mike Halkitis spent Monday questioning potential jurors about what they knew of the case.
Several saw news stories about the tattoo issue last week.
Others remember the murder itself, which drew attention from the national media.
One woman said she recently converted to Islam and has seen her husband, also a Muslim, endure harassment because of his religion.
Sitting on the jury to decide the fate of someone associated with a hate group, she said, would be difficult.
The attorneys don't have to find jurors with no knowledge of the case, but they have to be assured that jurors won't let anything but the evidence in the trial determine their verdict.
The death penalty is another challenge.
Several people in the jury pool say they could never vote in favor of a death sentence.
"I don't believe in taking someone's life," one woman said.
In Florida, the only possible sentence for first-degree murder is life in prison or death. Juries are presented aggravating and mitigating factors and then vote on a recommended sentence. The judge has the final say but must give the jury's recommendation great weight.
A 12-member jury with two alternates was seated Monday evening. The trial is expected to last until next week.