NEW PORT RICHEY — The first Christmas after his son was stabbed next door to a neo-Nazi compound, Guy King received a card from John Ditullio, the man in jail accused of the crime.
On the front was a tombstone that said, "Rest in peace" and "Here lies dead f--."
The message inside: "I hope your Christmas is full of memories of your dead gay son. Merry f------ Christmas."
It was signed "Syn," Ditullio's nickname, according to prosecutors.
During the opening day of Ditullio's trial on charges of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder, the prosecution offered the testimony of the surviving victim and said it has DNA evidence linking Ditullio to the 2006 double stabbing. But Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said Ditullio's own writings may be most damning of all.
"These letters authored by the defendant are so incriminating," Halkitis told jurors, they could "convict this defendant based on his words alone."
In a letter Ditullio mailed to his own father from jail, Halkitis said, Ditullio declared, "It's high time I stand up and face the music."
Don't be upset, he told his father. "All this is my fault. These are my actions."
On March 23, 2006, Pasco authorities say, Ditullio put on a gas mask and broke into the home of Patricia Wells and stabbed her in the face and neck. Then he attacked 17-year-old Kristofer King, a friend of Wells' son. Wells was slashed in the face and hands but recovered from her injuries. King died.
Authorities have described the case as a hate crime. Wells told authorities the neo-Nazi group next door harassed her for weeks before the stabbing, shouting racial epithets and threatening her life. She had a black friend who sometimes visited her home, which infuriated them. In addition, King and Wells' son were gay, Halkitis said, and open about their sexuality, which also drew the neo-Nazis' ire.
Wells, 48, testified Monday that she was lying on her couch, dozing in front of the TV, when a man in a gas mask burst in and charged at her with a knife. She scrambled to a back bedroom, where King was sitting at a computer.
The masked man cornered Wells between two pieces of furniture, slashing at her with a 6-inch blade. When King tried to run, the masked man went after him.
As she fled the house to get help, Wells said, "The last words I heard from him (King) as I ran out the door were, 'Why are you doing this to me?' "
Wells said she never saw her attacker's face because it was concealed behind the gas mask. But when she saw a photo the next day of Ditullio being led away in handcuffs, she believed she was looking at the man who stabbed her, based on his height and build.
None of the others from the neo-Nazi compound, she said, fit the description.
But Bjorn Brunvand, Ditullio's attorney, told jurors that some of the evidence points to another neo-Nazi member as the attacker.
He said the clothing description Wells provided — white T-shirt and khaki pants — matched what Shawn Plott, another neo-Nazi member, was wearing when the attacker was seen running from the house that night. Ditullio was wearing a red T-shirt and black pants when he was arrested the next morning.
The state plans to present blood samples taken from the mask and Ditullio's boot that contain Wells' DNA. Brunvand said the DNA from the boot was tainted and that the blood could have gotten on the boot when Ditullio was being led away by deputies through the street where Wells left a bloody trail. And the sample taken from the mask, Brunvand said, also contained Plott's DNA.
He acknowledged that his client had motive to commit the stabbings because of his association with the neo-Nazis. But so did the others in the group, of which Ditullio was a prospect and not yet a full-fledged member.
"It is reasonable that the individuals who fled (after the stabbings), fled because they had been involved in a gruesome murder and they were all using young John Ditullio as the fall guy," Brunvand said.
He asked jurors not to jump to conclusions based on Ditullio's admitted bigotry. And he said they'll get to hear from Ditullio himself, as the defendant plans to testify later in the trial.
"At the end of this case, we're going to ask you not to like my client but to render a verdict based on the evidence and the lack of evidence," Brunvand said.
The state will seek the death penalty if Ditullio is convicted.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office, which runs the jail in Land O'Lakes, has a policy to screen all outgoing mail, except for inmates' correspondence with their attorneys, sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said. It's unclear how the letter to Guy King slipped through.
"That's one we should have caught but did not," Doll said.
Before he ever went to jail, Ditullio started documenting the events of March 23, 2006. In a notebook found inside the neo-Nazi compound, Halkitis said Ditullio wrote to the other group members on the night of the stabbings.
As he sat holed up in the Teak Street mobile home with a SWAT team surrounding him, he wrote: "I'm ready to die for what I believe in. I now know what it means to die for my race."
And: "I'm ready to shoot these cops until my hand stops working. … I'd rather be killed than to live with those n------ forever."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.