John Allen Ditullio Jr. sits in court in New Port Richey, Fla. Dec. 4, 2009
Ditullio is apparently a walking billboard for the neo-Nazi movement: a large 6-inch swastika tattooed under his right ear, barbed wire inked down the right side of his face, and an extreme and very personal vulgarity scrawled on one side of his neck.
And now Judge Michael Andrews, acting on a request by Ditullio's lawyer, has ruled that the tattoos are potentially offensive and could influence a jury's opinion in the state's death penalty case against the 23-year-old, who is accused of donning a gas mask, breaking into a neighbor's home and stabbing two people, killing one of them.
The judge ruled that any tattoos Ditullio had before his arrest won't be covered, such as a small cross under his right eye, but since his March 26, 2006 arrest the self-described neo-Nazi has added tattoos to his body that are prominently displayed and not easily concealed and public defender, Bjorn Brunvand, was worried that a jury might be biased against his client on the basis of the tattoos alone.
"Whenever someone is facing the death penalty, they should get a fair trial," Brunvand said.
The trial began Tuesday with opening statements. Proceedings are expected to stretch into next week.
Prosecutors allege that Ditullio broke into his neighbor's home and stabbed two people — injuring 44-year-old Patricia Wells, the home's owner, and killing Kristofer King, a 17-year-old visitor and friend of Wells' son.
Wells lived next door to a mobile home that was commonly known as "the Nazi compound," which had large swastika flags flying on the property, authorities said. Ditullio was arrested at the mobile home after a SWAT standoff.
Authorities called the stabbings a hate crime, and Wells agreed, previously telling local media that she believed Ditullio attacked her because she had a black friend — and because her own son was gay and Ditullio may have mistaken King for her son.
Brunvand said his client is innocent and plans to tell the jury that someone else inside the neo-Nazi compound could have committed the crime.