Nick DiBartolo didn’t look at his dad.
The 17-year-old high school senior stared straight ahead and leaned heavily on the courtroom lectern Thursday, straining to maintain his composure.
“I believe that he’s guilty,” the teenager said before dissolving into a low, gasping sob.
His father, Tom DiBartolo, sat less than 10 feet away, the color gone from his face.
The boy choked back tears and continued, telling the judge he fears his father would come after him if he got out of jail.
The suspended Spokane County sheriff’s deputy is charged with first-degree murder in the November shooting death of Patty DiBartolo, his wife of 19 years and the boy’s mother.
The teenager pleaded with Superior Court Judge Neal Q. Rielly to keep DiBartolo locked up until his trial, scheduled to begin March 24.
“He knows how I feel about what happened that night,” Nick DiBartolo said. “I’m afraid for my life. If he gets out, I’ll have to force myself to leave. I’m willing to give up my (high school) graduation for my safety.”
The teenager’s testimony came during his father’s bond hearing, just minutes after the deputy was arraigned and pleaded not guilty.
Rielly ruled Thursday that DiBartolo would have to raise $250,000 cash to bail out of jail. He also ordered DiBartolo to have no contact with eight individuals, including his son, should he be released.
Detectives say the 18-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department lured his wife to Lincoln Park the night of Nov. 2 and shot the mother of five in the back of the head with her own gun.
DiBartolo, 42, then fired a round into his own side in an attempted cover-up, investigators say. The motive is unclear, although detectives say in court papers the couple’s marriage was in trouble.
The deputy has maintained he and his 39-year-old wife were attacked by two robbers after a romantic walk in the South Hill park.
He was arrested Jan. 29 after an intensive investigation and has been jailed since.
During Thursday’s hearing, DiBartolo’s oldest daughter, 20-year-old Michelle Robinson, and his sister-in-law, Bobby Jean Harrison, echoed Nick DiBartolo’s sentiments.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Tom is guilty of murdering my sister,” Harrison told Rielly. “I’ve known Tom for 20 years. He’s a master of intimidation. I’m very frightened of him.”
The comments stood in stark contrast to the rosy family portrait DiBartolo described in a December interview with The Spokesman-Review. He praised his children for their strength and support in the wake of the shooting.
“They have rallied together, and they have rallied around me,” DiBartolo said about a week before Christmas. “They feel their gift this year is me surviving this. It’s a credit to their mom.”
The growing division among the DiBartolo family and friends was evident Thursday on the two narrow benches in the back of the courtroom.
Nearly 30 friends and relatives of the victim and the deputy sat in two separate groups.
People who had shared a close relationship over the past 20 years rarely made eye contact and seldom spoke to one another.
DiBartolo, who arrived in court wearing khaki Dockers and a maroon-and-blue striped shirt, declined to speak on his own behalf.
Mark Blanchard, who said he has known DiBartolo since high school, stood up to support his friend.
“I can tell you at this time I don’t think Tom is guilty of this,” said Blanchard, adding that DiBartolo could stay with him if he makes bond. “He’s got my support and my family’s support 100 percent.”
Blanchard said he recently took DiBartolo’s three youngest children, who range in age from 14 to 9, to visit their father in jail. “Those babies need their daddy home,” Blanchard said.
Tony DiBartolo also spoke on his brother’s behalf.
“I don’t see my brother as being a flight risk at this time,” he said. “I haven’t viewed any intimidation tactics. He can stay with me if he gets out.”
Joseph Gary Krantz, who serves in DiBartolo’s Air National Guard unit, said the deputy has never missed an assignment in his 22 years in the Guard.
But Spokane police detective Roger Bays disputed that.
Another National Guard member will testify at trial that DiBartolo had asked him to cover four shifts in the past two years, Bays told Rielly. The man claims DiBartolo wanted the time off so he could carry on an extramarital affair, the detective said.
Investigators say in court records that DiBartolo was involved in several liaisons over the course of his marriage, including as many as three at the time of his wife’s death.
County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sweetser said DiBartolo booked a trip to Hawaii with another woman shortly after the shooting.
DiBartolo’s attorney, Maryann Moreno, called such attempts to discredit her client “character assassination.”
“The defendant is innocent at this point,” Moreno said.
She argued that DiBartolo should be released on a $100,000 property bond, with his Medical Lake house put up for collateral. He knew he was under suspicion during the investigation but stayed in the area, Moreno said.
Sweetser said nothing short of $1 million cash would ensure DiBartolo appears at trial.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo