December 13, 1997 in Nation/World

Dibartolo Found Guilty Jury Decides On One Vote Ex-Deputy Killed His Wife

Tom Sowa And Robin Rivers S Staff writer
 

Former sheriff’s deputy Tom DiBartolo was convicted Friday of killing his wife last year in a south Spokane park.

The eight-man, four-woman jury deliberated for 2-1/2 days before finding the 43-year-old DiBartolo guilty of killing his wife Patty on Nov. 2, 1996.

DiBartolo claimed he and his wife were shot by two men while they were strolling in Lincoln Park.

While the verdict was being read, DiBartolo looked up at the courtroom ceiling and shook his head. Family members crowded the courtroom as Judge Neal Rielly read the verdict. As DiBartolo sat down, he looked briefly at his attorney Maryann Moreno, but said nothing.

Bobbie Jean Harrison, Patty’s sister, said she first felt relief upon hearing the verdict.

“Then second, I felt pain. Because I knew it was going to be my task to tell the (younger) children that their dad wasn’t going home.”

Since August, Patty and Tom’s three younger children - ages 15, 12 and 10 - have lived with Harrison and her husband.

Patty’s parents, Floyd and Ramona Reeves, huddled with family members after the courtroom cleared, wiping their eyes and hugging.

“I’ve waited 13 months for this,” Floyd Reeves said. “It’s been especially hard the past four or five weeks. I spent last night walking the floor.”

DiBartolo will be sentenced on Jan. 21. He faces a sentence of 20 to 26 years.

Prosecutor Jim Sweetser said he’ll review the option of seeking an exceptional sentence on the basis that DiBartolo is a former law enforcement officer.

Jurors met with Rielly and with prosecutors after the verdict, then left the courthouse without talking to reporters.

Jurors told prosecutors that the critical point in the five-week trial was the cross-examination of DiBartolo by Deputy Prosecutor Larry Steinmetz. DiBartolo spent two days on the stand in his own defense. During the second day, Steinmetz grilled him for five hours, forcing DiBartolo to dodge many questions and repeatedly respond “I don’t know” about details of the murder.

“They said they didn’t believe he was telling the truth. And that they were glad I kept asking questions they wanted to ask themselves,” Steinmetz said.

Prosecutors told jurors that DiBartolo planned his wife’s murder to avoid a costly divorce, collect insurance money and carry on relationships with other women.

Three former girlfriends of DiBartolo testified during the trial about their affairs with the former deputy.

But jurors told Steinmetz and Sweetser they paid little attention to the extramarital affairs in reaching their verdict.

“The motive they arrived at (for the murder) was that DiBartolo knew Patty was moving out,” Steinmetz said.

“They thought DiBartolo knew the time of the murder was critical - if he didn’t kill her then, he might not have another chance.”

Sweetser complimented the jury for taking extra care and not rushing to a verdict.

In fact, jurors told him and Steinmetz that they took only one vote - and that was late Friday after they had reviewed all the evidence.

Moreno said she was disappointed with the verdict.

“The jury worked hard. We had hoped they would find him not guilty,” she said.

Outside the courthouse later, Moreno comforted Katrina DiBartolo, Tom’s 15-year-old daughter. Moreno told her, “He’s still going to be there.”

Katrina’s older brother, Nick, who testified against his father during the trial, was relieved to see it end.

“We just start from scratch now,” he said. “Go with the pieces we’ve got and start over.”

“He’s definitely guilty,” Nick said. “I’ve known the verdict from the beginning.”

Nick said he doesn’t wish his father dead, just punished for the rest of his life for the life he took.

But this ordeal is far from over for the 17-year-old, who said that every time he signs his name to a check or a form he is asked about the murder of his mother.

“It never really ends,” he said.

DiBartolo’s mother, brother and sister left the courtroom after the verdict, deciding not to make any statements.

On Thursday, Lynn Jones, DiBartolo’s older sister, said relatives from his side of the family met and decided not to comment after the verdict.

“This has been very tough for us,” Jones said. “If we make any statement, it will be in writing.”

The investigation and trial opened a clear fissure between the two sides of the family. Harrison said she and her parents will try to mend the rift.

“But ultimately, what’s most important are the children,” she said.

Prosecutors and detectives compiled a vast amount of circumstantial evidence pointing to DiBartolo as the man who shot his wife in the head with her own .38-caliber pistol.

More than 115 witnesses testified and more than 400 pieces of evidence were given to jurors.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email