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Kalisz's other crimes come to fore in penalty phase of Hernando murder trial

BROOKSVILLE — A jury took just 96 minutes to convict John Kalisz of murder, but in many ways the real fight over his fate begins today.

The defense team will argue that their client deserves life in prison; prosecutor Pete Magrino will seek the death penalty.

On Jan. 14, 2010, Kalisz killed his sister, Kathryn "Kitty" Donovan, and her office manager, Deborah Tillotson, in Donovan's home on Wilhelm Road, west of Brooksville. He also shot his niece, Manessa Donovan, and Amy Green, an employee at Kitty Donovan's home-based business.

Kalisz's public defenders didn't call a single person to the stand during the trial. But in the coming days they're likely to pack the courtroom with witnesses, including two doctors, to speak on the defendant's behalf.

The defense's argument, at least in part, may center on Kalisz's alcoholism.

In the months before the crime, Kalisz claimed to have been sober for 20 years, but he drank scotch the night before the murders. A toxicology report indicated that, in the hours after the crime, his blood-alcohol level just exceeded 0.08.

During much of last week's jury selection, public defender Alan Fanter focused his questions on alcoholism. He asked jurors for their opinions about Alcoholics Anonymous, if they knew any alcoholics and if they believed alcoholism was curable.

Jurors, however, will also hear for the first time the full breadth of Kalisz's criminal past, including his murder of Dixie County sheriff's Capt. Chad Reed, who was shot trying to arrest him later that day in Cross City.

Magrino may also emphasize that Manessa Donovan was two months pregnant when Kalisz shot her. She later lost the fetus.

Both she and Green offered compelling, emotional testimony last week as they described, in detail, the horror of the attack. It's unclear if either woman will testify again.

Friends of Kitty Donovan, well-known in the community and throughout the country, may also speak. She had earned an international reputation as an innovator in the field of color analysis, teaching people how to find the colors that best suited their bodies and, she believed, their souls. She ran the company out of her house.

Tillotson's family has been in attendance since the trial's start and will also have the chance to address jurors.

During the proceedings, attorneys on both sides vaguely referenced the motivation behind the rampage, but that will likely take a much more prominent role in the penalty phase.

Months before the killings, the 57-year-old Kalisz exposed himself and masturbated in front of Manessa, then 17, in his sister's home. He was also accused of giving her nude photos and threatening the girl's boyfriend with a knife.

After accepting a deal, he was convicted in October 2009 of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He got six years of probation.

Kalisz's defense in that case cost him the inheritance he had received from his recently deceased mother. The probation also prevented the former roofer from returning to Colorado to retrieve his tools.

As the new year arrived, Kalisz's life began to unravel. The sexual accusations, he told friends, ruined him. He hated his sister for it.

Then, in early January 2010, his mobile home burned down when he tried to change propane tanks.

In his closing arguments Monday, Fanter told jurors Kalisz quit thinking in that moment and was consumed by rage. He blamed his sister and her family for his life's collapse.

Days later, he walked into Donovan's home, and the killing began.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at or (352) 848-1432.