Dec. 7, 2010 -- 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.
Suspect's Swastika Covered Up for Murder Trial
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."
Bjorn Brunvand, Ditullio's court-appointed attorney, argued that his client may be a neo-Nazi, but he was not wearing those tattoos at the time of the King murder. Brunvand said Ditullio got most the tattoos on his face and neck during the past four years while he was in prison, and the "tats" have no bearing on the 2006 murder. Those tattoos include a swastika, track mark resembling barbed wire is emblazoned on the right side of his face from his forehead to his cheeks, and a crude sexual expletive on his neck.
Circuit Judge Michael Andrews agreed that all tattoos that were added after the murders should be camoflauged. Two tattoos, a tear drop in the corner of one eye and a small cross under the other eye, will remain visible during the trial.
Will Marling, executive director of the Virginia-based National Organization for Victim Assistance, said that while the judge's ruling might be exasperating to some, it's well reasoned.
"You want to make sure that if he's found guilty, it sticks," Marling said. "You don't want the outcome to be that it heads to the appellate court because the trial was deemed biased. These are important nuances of the criminal justice system."
Samuel Gross, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, said that the tattoos are so offensive that it may color jurists who may assume he is guilty when they should be judging him on the merits of the case.
"However offensive he is he may not have committed this crime," Gross said. "It may have been committed by a different neo-Nazi. The jury could see this person who is telling the world, 'I am your enemy. I am an evil racist violent person,' and think, 'That's it. He's guilty.' "
Dershowitz, however, suggested the jury has a right to see the suspect in an honest light.
He said in the 1990s he successfully argued to have a 15-year-old prostitute dress the way she did the night she met a man who was later charged with statutory rape. In that case, Dershowitz was defending the man who claimed that he believed the girl was much older.
"When she came to court she was dressed like a choir girl," Dershowitz said. "She looked like she was 13." He said the judge agreed that the girl should appear in court in the same attire -- a short skirt, fishnet stockings, wearing heavy makeup -- she wore the night his client met her. "The defendant was entitled to have her appear in court as she did to him."
Charlene Bricken, the mother of the teenager who was stabbed to death, told the ABCNews affiliate in Tampa just wants justice tol be served.
"The wounds are going to stay open forever. This isn't reopening it," Bricken said, referring to the new trial.
Bricken said while the attack was fueled by hatred, her son was the antithesis.
"Tolerance, that was a big part of what Kris was," said Bricken.