NEW PORT RICHEY — Jurors in the murder trial of neo-Nazi John Ditullio spent Thursday listening to attorneys question witnesses — then peppered the experts with questions of their own.
Via notes submitted to the judge, jurors asked a DNA analyst about her handling of key evidence. They asked investigators about blood spatter on the street and fingerprints on letters attributed to Ditullio, who is accused in the 2006 double stabbing that left a teenager dead.
At the time, Ditullio was a recruit in an American Nazi clan, vying for full membership. The group lived on Teak Street, near Hudson, flying Nazi flags, blasting white supremacist music and harassing the woman next door who had an African-American friend and a gay son. One night, authorities say, Ditullio put on a gas mask to hide his face, broke into Patricia Wells' home and stabbed her in the face and arms. Kristofer King, a friend of Wells' son, was also in the house. He died of knife wounds to his head.
Ditullio, now 24, went to trial last year on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder, but the jury deadlocked. The state is trying him again and seeking the death penalty.
In Florida, judges may allow jurors to ask their own questions of witnesses. Circuit Judge Michael Andrews routinely allows it, through handwritten questions the judge reviews and then reads aloud.
On Thursday, a DNA analyst testified about the blood she found on Ditullio's boots, his clothes and the gas mask. A spot on one boot, the analyst said, matched Wells' DNA. Another sample on the gas mask could not rule out Ditullio or Shawn Plott, another member of the neo-Nazi group whom the defense says is the real killer.
But the analyst also got some of her own DNA into some of the samples. Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand hammered her about the contamination and raised questions about why it wasn't documented until nearly three years had passed.
When he was finished, the jurors piped in.
Why did the contamination report take so long? Is it industry standard to document a mistake? Did she follow protocol?
The state also called a blood expert to debunk a defense theory about how Wells' blood got on Ditullio's boot. Brunvand has said that when Ditullio was arrested and led to a patrol car, he may have stepped in blood left on the street hours earlier, when Wells ran outside screaming for help. The state's expert said that's unlikely, if not impossible, because the blood would have long since dried.
But jurors have asked virtually every investigator who was at the crime scene if they noticed blood spots on the street.
Jurors on Thursday also heard excerpts of letters Ditullio wrote — words Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis says are enough to convict him on their own.
In a missive he wrote from inside the neo-Nazi compound as Pasco sheriff's SWAT team members surrounded the place, he called the officers "pigs" and said he was ready to die for his race.
"I'd rather be killed than to live with those n------ forever," Ditullio allegedly wrote in a spiral-bound notebook later seized by investigators.
Writing to his father from his jail cell, Ditullio wrote that he preferred the death penalty over life in prison.
"This is all my fault. These are all my actions. I'm sick of f------ other people's lives up for the things I've done," the letter said.
The Christmas after he was arrested, prosecutors say Ditullio mailed a card to Guy King, Kristofer's father, writing "hope your Christmas is full of memories of your dead gay son."
The defense does not deny the words are all Ditullio's. But when a fingerprint examiner testified that she had found Ditullio's fingerprints on the notebook inside the neo-Nazi compound, one juror asked about the possibility of other people's prints having been wiped off.
Ditullio stared down as the letters were read aloud and the jurors inspected them.
In his trial last year, he took the witness stand and said he was not admitting guilt but writing out of frustration at being wrongly accused.
He is expected to testify again, and this jury will get to ask him about it.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.