Pasco News

At neo-Nazi's murder trial, jurors also quizzed witnesses

NEW PORT RICHEY - Jurors selected to hear the murder trial of neo-Nazi John Ditullio Jr. held a privilege not usually granted to jurors: the ability to ask questions of witnesses. Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews is one of the few judges who allow the practice during criminal trials. The process can be tedious but also can result in insightful questions the attorneys may have overlooked. Here's how it works: After the prosecutor and defense attorney complete their examination of a witness, Andrews asks whether jurors have questions. The jurors submit written questions.
Andrews and the attorneys weed through the questions and decide which ones can be asked. The judge reads the question to the witness. Juror questions often result in further questions from the attorneys, who may seek to clarify answers or go deeper into an issue raised by a jury question. Ditullio, 24, went to trial Dec. 6 in the stabbings of Kristofer King and Patricia Wells. Ditullio's neo-Nazi affiliation permeated the case. He and other members of the American Nazis lived in a Teak Street mobile home next door to Wells. King, 17, was a friend of Wells' son. Ditullio put on a gas mask and barged into Wells' trailer after midnight on March 23, 2006. He cut Wells on her face, hands and arms before fatally stabbing King, who was at the home to use a computer. Ditullio testified in his own defense. He said another neo-Nazi, Shawn Plott, committed the stabbings and that the group conspired to pin the crime on him. He said Plott returned to the neo-Nazi compound after the stabbings, threw him the gas mask and told him to hang it on a hook in the ceiling. Ditullio explained that the blood investigators found on his left boot could have gotten there in several ways, one of which was when Plott threw him the mask. Tests revealed the blood came from Wells. Following his testimony, jurors peppered Ditullio with questions. Among them: •Are you left-handed or right-handed? •Do you still align yourself with ... or continue to share any beliefs of the American Nazis? •Did any members of the compound wear boots similar to yours? •Do you recall seeing blood on the mask when you hung it back from the ceiling? The jury also had questions for Cory Patnode, a convicted felon who was a member of the American Nazis and was at the Teak Street compound on the night of the murder. Patnode testified that Ditullio committed the stabbings. The panel's questions included: •How high are the ceilings in the trailer, specifically, the room where the mask was hanging? •At any time during the evening, did John Ditullio remove the mask from the hook? •Did the gas mask hang low enough to be quickly removed and quickly put back in place? Jon Thogmartin, chief medical examiner for Pasco and Pinellas counties, testified about the head wounds that caused King's death. Jurors wanted to know: •Could there have been two different knives used in the death from the sizes of the wounds on Mr. King's head? •Can the doctor determine if the stabs came from in front of victim or from back of victim? •Can the doctor determine whether assailant was left-handed or right-handed? •What was the width of the wound? On Dec. 15, after about 11 hours of deliberations, the jury of six men and six women found Ditullio guilty of first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. Andrews accepted the panel's recommendation that Ditullio be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Reporter Todd Leskanic can be reached at (813) 731-8098.