The next time Tom DiBartolo walks into court, he’ll find out what kind of person a Spokane County jury thinks he is.
It either will be the portrait painted by prosecutors of a “selfish, egotistical maniac” who planned the execution-style murder of his wife for money and to escape a boring marriage.
Or the man he claims to be - a working-class former sheriff’s deputy who had no reason to kill Patty DiBartolo, his wife and mother of five children.
During closing arguments Wednesday in DiBartolo’s murder trial, Spokane County Prosecutor Jim Sweetser reviewed the vast pile of evidence he says points to DiBartolo’s guilt.
“All those point in one direction,” Sweetser told jurors. “It’s no coincidence. It’s called premeditated, first-degree murder.”
DiBartolo’s defense attorney Maryann Moreno took jurors through much of the same evidence but came to a different conclusion.
She said Spokane police focused solely on DiBartolo after his wife’s death on Nov. 2, 1996, and failed to consider other suspects.
Moreno said DiBartolo had an unhappy marriage but was not desperate enough to kill his wife to have relationships with other women.
“Why would a man known to have extramarital affairs all his marriage kill his wife when she herself knew about them?” Moreno asked jurors.
Prosecutors throughout the five-week trial have said DiBartolo, 43, murdered his wife to collect $100,000 in insurance money and avoid a costly divorce.
DiBartolo claims he and his wife were attacked by two men while walking in Spokane’s Lincoln Park: One man grabbed a loaded handgun from the glove box of the couple’s minivan. During DiBartolo’s struggle with the gunman, two shots were fired - one killing his wife, the second wounding him in the abdomen.
Wednesday’s closing arguments ran five hours.
Holding a photo from the crime scene, Sweetser reminded the jury that the spot where Patty DiBartolo fell after being shot was marked by a “river of blood.”
In comparison, he said, there was less blood in the couple’s minivan, which carried her body to the hospital after the shooting. The point, Sweetser said, is “the defendant made sure Patty was dead” before he drove her to Sacred Heart Medical Center.
Moreno countered by telling jurors to be skeptical of that “pile of evidence,” including Sweetser’s theory about the amount of blood.
“Was there really more blood in the van? I’m not so sure,” she told jurors, reminding them of testimony from a doctor earlier in the trial. The amount of blood found after a shooting depends on the type of gunshot wound, not the length of time a body is on the ground, she said.
Moreno said the discrepancies in DiBartolo’s account of the murder come from his eagerness to help detectives, not deceive them.
“He wanted to give them something to help them find who did this, that’s what he was doing,” she said.
But Sweetser repeatedly pounced on those discrepancies, saying DiBartolo’s story changed between the time of the murder and the trial.
“Why is his memory (of the murder night) now better on some points and worse on others?” Sweetser asked.
“Isn’t it the case his story would change, and his memory improved when it benefits him? And especially when he could see physical evidence he didn’t know before?” Sweetser said.
Pointing at DiBartolo, sitting two steps away, Sweetser then said: “Physical evidence doesn’t lie, people do.”
Moreno in turn criticized prosecutors for suggesting that DiBartolo’s 15-year-old daughter, Katrina, fabricated answers when she testified earlier this week.
Katrina DiBartolo said she paged her father the night of the murder while he was in Lincoln Park. She said the page went through at 9:08 p.m., which undercuts the prosecution’s claim that he killed his wife shortly after 9 p.m., then waited 15 minutes before taking her to the hospital.
“When the prosecution has to stoop to calling a 15-year-old girl a liar, then you have to wonder about the state’s case,” Moreno said.
Jurors deliberated four hours Wednesday evening before going home around 8 p.m.
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