John Allen Ditullio Jr., an avowed neo-Nazi whose face and neck are covered with tattoos -- including a swastika -- will appear at his murder trial this week minus the lurid markings thanks to a $125-a-day taxpayer-funded make-over.
Ditullio's attorney persuaded the judge that the "scary" tattoos would prejudice the Florida jury. The state is paying a cosmetologist to cover the tattoos every day during the trial because Ditullio is indigent.
Ditullio could face the death penalty for the stabbing death of a teenager in 2006, in an attack prosecutors call a hate crime motivated by racism and homophobia.
The judge's decision to camoflauge Ditullio's tattoos angered family members and victim's rights advocates.
"Taxpayer dollars should not be paying for this," said Greg Wims, president of the Victims Rights Foundation, a national group based in Gaithersburg, Md. "People should be able to see these tattoos. The jury should see what kind of person he is. Of course those tattoos are central to the case."
Alan Dershowitz, the renowned criminal attorney who teaches at Harvard Law School, said it would seem that the swastika and other tattoos are an extension of Ditullio's persona, and masking the marks could be construed as misleading to a jury.
"He is alleged to have attacked people on the basis of sex orientation and race. The court has the chance to make its rulings based on whether the tattoos are relevant to the case," Dershowitz said. "It depends on what the prosecution is trying to prove. If they are saying his Nazi ideology drove him, then you could argue that seeing the tattoos is relevant."
Dershowitz said one could argue that his tattoos are the way he chooses to present himself publicly. "It's not like the swastika was on his rear end," he said.
State Attorney Mike Halkitis has denounced the decision, saying there is no reason to cover Ditullio's tattoos. "Everything he did that day was prejudicial," Halkitis said, referring to the March 23, 2006 attack.
Jury selection began Monday in New Port Richey, Fla., a county north of Tampa. The trial is expected to begin today and last about two weeks. This trial is a redo for Ditullio, whose case last year ended in a mistrial. During that trial, his makeup sessions cost taxpayers $150 a day.
Ditullio is accused of stabbing 17-year-old Kristofer King to death and stabbing Patricia Wells in the face and hand during a rampage in a trailer park. Prosecutors say Ditullio was one of several professed members of American Nazis, a group that met regularly at a trailer near Wells's home.
Prosecutors allege that Ditullio entered Wells's home wearing a gas mask and began slashing at her before going after King, whom he presumed was Wells's openly gay son. Ditullio attacked Wells, prosecutors say, because she was dating a black man.
A notebook police say belongs to Ditullio included these passages: "I'm ready to die for what I believe in. I now know what it means to die for my race." In another entry, he reportedly wrote, "I'm ready to shoot these cops until my hand stops working. ... I'd rather be killed than to live with those n------ forever."