Tom DiBartolo is on trial for the murder of his wife because he’s a greedy, lust-driven killer who couldn’t keep his lies straight, Spokane Prosecuting Attorney Jim Sweetser said Wednesday.
In his opening statements in the first-degree murder trial, Sweetser gave jurors a detailed history of the messy, bloody killing of Patty DiBartolo, 39, who died from a gunshot wound to the head on Nov. 2, 1996.
The killing, Sweetser said, was the culmination of DiBartolo’s scheme to grab insurance money and unburden himself from an unhappy 19-year marriage.
Defense attorney Maryann Moreno did not make opening statements Wednesday. She said she wants prosecutors to finish their case before she outlines DiBartolo’s side of the story.
DiBartolo has said his wife was killed by two black men who tried to rob them while they strolled through the South Hill’s Lincoln Park.
Sweetser said police detectives spent weeks investigating other leads and other suspects. But they found a string of frequently changing stories and other clues pointing to DiBartolo as the real killer.
“He even arranged to shoot himself, to try and look like a hero the night of the murder,” Sweetser said.
Prosecutors on Wednesday laid out a long list of witnesses who will testify over the next four weeks - including three women they say the 42-year-old DiBartolo had affairs with at the time of his wife’s murder.
One of the women, Christine Ritchie, had sex with DiBartolo the afternoon of the murder and then on the day of his wife’s funeral, prosecutors said.
“A nurse will testify that she saw a blond woman kissing the defendant passionately, for more than a minute, in the hospital,” Sweetser told the jurors.
“This happens only hours after Patty DiBartolo, the mother of his five children, is murdered,” Sweetser said, pointing at DiBartolo.
The former sheriff’s deputy is expected to testify in about two weeks, after prosecutors finish their case.
He’s expected to say that he and his wife were approached the night of the murder by two black men, each wearing dark clothes and athletic team jackets. One man grabbed his wife’s gun from their van and fired a bullet that struck Patty DiBartolo in the head. DiBartolo says he wrestled with the gunman, causing another bullet to be fired, which hit DiBartolo in the abdomen.
DiBartolo will testify that he ran back to the van, grabbed his automatic pistol and fired three shots toward the fleeing assailants.
Authorities believe Patty DiBartolo died a few minutes after being shot. When doctors examined her at Sacred Heart Medical Center, they guessed she’d already been dead approximately 30 minutes, Sweetser said.
Prosecutors plan to call family members and friends of DiBartolo to the witness stand to show how his story kept changing.
Sweetser said DiBartolo called police detectives after the shooting in mid-December, saying financial problems were causing him great stress.
He told detectives that the insurance company would not pay him death benefits on his wife’s policy unless he was no longer a suspect in the murder.
But police told him they would not clear him at that point, Sweetser said.
DiBartolo then called detectives and said, angrily, “I really need to get this done, to be cleared,” Sweetser said.
Police detectives will testify that DiBartolo told them in December he had just learned his wife’s insurance policy carried a double-indemnity clause.
Normally, the policy paid death benefits of $50,000. In an accidental death, DiBartolo was to receive $100,000, Sweetser said.
But other witnesses will say that DiBartolo told them something different. One person who came to the November funeral will say DiBartolo told her then that his wife’s policy had the double-indemnity clause, Sweetser said.
Wednesday afternoon’s prosecution witnesses included a Sacred Heart Medical Center doctor who treated DiBartolo’s abdominal wound the night of the murder.
Dr. John Clyde called the wound “superficial,” a statement that prosecutors hope supports their theory that DiBartolo shot himself.
Sweetser said witnesses will explain how Patty DiBartolo’s .38-caliber pistol causes a distinct flash-burn if it’s fired close to the body. DiBartolo’s abdomen had a burn mark, but investigators say it was not consistent with the story he told detectives, Sweetser said.
DiBartolo said that during a struggle with the gunman he forced the weapon upside down as it was being fired.
The actual burn mark doctors found on DiBartolo shows that the gun was not fired upside down, Sweeter said.
The packed gallery in Judge Neal Rielly’s court included about a dozen of Patty DiBartolo’s relatives. Two of DiBartolo’s relatives were also on hand. Members of his immediate family are not allowed in court because they are potential witnesses.
Expected to testify today are the pathologist who performed Patty DiBartolo’s autopsy and several police officers who investigated the crime scene.
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