Tom DiBartolo broke down in tears Tuesday as he led jurors on a tense four-hour chronicle of the night his wife was killed, at one point blaming himself for not saving her.
Asked by his attorney how he felt when told Patty DiBartolo was dead, he said: “I felt like I had failed her again.”
DiBartolo’s much anticipated testimony in Spokane County Superior Court came three weeks into the murder trial.
Prosecutors say the former sheriff’s deputy killed his wife on Nov. 2, 1996, then wounded himself in the abdomen to try to cover up the crime.
When DiBartolo first took the witness stand, he tearfully talked about driving his wife to the hospital after she had been shot. He then became terse and grim, admitting he frequently had been unfaithful to her throughout their 18-year marriage.
Under cross-examination, jurors also saw DiBartolo bristle at relentless questioning by Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz.
Steinmetz pressed DiBartolo to explain why a girlfriend had moved into his home just months after Patty DiBartolo’s funeral.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her,” DiBartolo fired back testily.
DiBartolo’s testimony came after the opening statement by his defense attorney, Maryann Moreno.
Moreno told the jury that the 43-year-old DiBartolo “would never win husband of the year” awards. He cheated on his wife the first year of their marriage, but he was not stupid, Moreno said. He had an easy marriage and nothing to gain by killing her, she said.
Moreno accused police investigators of tunnel vision, deciding he was the killer the morning after Patty DiBartolo’s murder.
“We have no real quarrel with the physical evidence presented so far,” Moreno said. “Our only quarrel is the evidence does not point to him as the murderer.”
Moreno said DiBartolo’s account of what happened the night of the murder has basically stayed the same, despite claims to the contrary by prosecutors.
DiBartolo told police two men approached him and his wife in Lincoln Park and demanded money. One man reached into the glove box of the couple’s minivan and pulled out a handgun. Two shots were fired during a struggle between DiBartolo and the gunman. The first shot hit Patty DiBartolo in the head; the second caused a superficial wound in his abdomen.
DiBartolo described reaching down to the ground to pick up his wounded wife after the attackers fled into the dark South Hill park. He said he first tried to put her body into the van’s front seat.
“I couldn’t pull her up; it was too high a seat,” he said.
When asked by Moreno why he and Patty didn’t just divorce if the marriage was troubled, DiBartolo tearfully said he wanted to keep the family together while their 10-year-old daughter Lindsay went through a difficult personal injury lawsuit.
Steinmetz devoted the better part of two hours grilling DiBartolo on his memory. He asked DiBartolo to describe two tense marine rescues he took part in as a sheriff’s deputy years earlier. He asked DiBartolo whether traumatic events leave a strong imprint on someone’s memory.
“I would not necessarily agree with that,” DiBartolo answered.
Steinmetz also asked DiBartolo why a trained law enforcement officer - someone who usually carried his off-duty handgun everywhere - would not have his pistol in the park.
“Because I don’t carry my gun with me all the time,” DiBartolo replied.
“I didn’t carry it that time. I forgot it. I left it in the van. Believe me, I don’t like the fact that I did that,” DiBartolo said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT An expert on grief is expected to testify for the defense today. Final arguments are likely next week.
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