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At neo-Nazi trial, victim recounts stabbing

NEW PORT RICHEY - Patricia Wells and her 17-year-old son, Brandon Wininger, hadn't had much peace since moving into a Teak Street mobile home in December 2005. A neo-Nazi group, which congregated at a compound next door, had hurled insults and threats. On one occasion, authorities say, several group members chased Wells and her son into their mobile home while cursing and threatening to kill them. The neo-Nazis wanted them out; they had seen Wells associating with a black man and knew her son was gay. Authorities say the hatred boiled over to violence after midnight on March 23, 2006, when a member of the white supremacist group donned a gas mask and entered Wells' home carrying a knife. Her son wasn't home, but his 17-year-old friend, Kristofer King, was in the back bedroom.
Wells testified today that she had just gotten up off the couch when the man appeared in front of her. She ran into the bedroom, but the intruder cornered her and began to slash her with the knife. King saw the attack and moved toward a door to escape when the attacker turned the knife on him. "My thought in my head was: Do I play dead or do I run and get help?" Wells, 48, testified. "I thought if I played dead, I would be dead. I wanted to try to get help for Kris, so I ran." She ran to a neighbor's house for help. King died of his injuries. The man investigators believe is responsible for King's death and for serious wounds to Wells is on trial in Pasco Circuit Court. John Ditullio Jr., 23, is charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder and faces a possible death sentence if found guilty of the murder. His trial is expected to last through this week and possibly into next week. Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand will argue that Ditullio, a prospective member of the group, was made a scapegoat for longtime neo-Nazi Shawn Plott. In his opening statement, Brunvand pointed out that Ditullio was the only person in the compound when investigators stormed it and took him into custody later on the day of the stabbing. "The evidence will show that the individuals who fled, fled because they had been involved in a gruesome murder," Brunvand said. "In particular, Shawn Plott. And they were all using John Ditullio as the fall guy." The state's strongest evidence might not be an eyewitness but letters purportedly written by Ditullio. "These letters are so incriminating you can forget all the evidence in the case and convict the defendant on these letters alone," Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said in his opening statement. Halkitis said Ditullio sent a Christmas card to King's father in December 2006 that included slurs about his son's sexuality. Ditullio also wrote a letter to his father in which he took responsibility for the stabbings, writing, "It's high time I face the music," the prosecutor said. When investigators stormed the compound, authorities say, not only did they find Ditullio sitting with three loaded guns and a gas mask hanging from the ceiling, they also found a notebook. Halkitis said the notes in the notebook were written by Ditullio as deputies surrounded the compound. The notes read, in part, "I am ready to die for what I believe in. I know what it means to die for my race." Nazi flags, Confederate flags, swastikas and slurs adorned the compound. Since being taken into custody, Ditullio has decorated his neck with tattoos of a swastika and an expletive, as well as a string of barbed wire and a teardrop on his face. Circuit Judge Michael Andrews agreed to a defense motion to allow a makeup artist to cover any tattoos Ditullio didn't have at the time of the crime. Some of the tattoos are considered to be so offensive that they could prevent Ditullio from getting a fair trial. The makeup artist will be paid a maximum of $125 a day for up to 10 days. Brunvand acknowledged his client's neo-Nazi affiliation and even went so far as to say Ditullio would have had a motive to commit the crimes. But "they all had motive," he said. "They're all people that generally you're not going to like. At the end of this case, we ask you not to like my client but to judge my client and to render a verdict based on the evidence."

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

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