November 22, 1997 in City

Jury Hears Dibartolo’s Sister-In-Law He Focused On Money After The Killing, She Says

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:trial

Tom DiBartolo’s sister-in-law told jurors Friday that he spent the weeks after his wife’s murder fretting over money and being named a suspect.

Bobbie Jean Harrison, the victim’s older sister, said he complained that “detectives were keeping him from getting the money” from Patty DiBartolo’s life insurance policy.

Harrison, 42, of Medical Lake, was the first of several family members expected to testify for the prosecution.

Scheduled to take the witness stand Monday are the defendant’s two oldest children: Michelle Robinson, 21, and Nick DiBartolo, 17.

Prosecutors say DiBartolo, then a Spokane County sheriff’s deputy, shot his wife in the head the night of Nov. 2, 1996, following a walk in Lincoln Park.

They’ll use family members and other witnesses to argue DiBartolo resorted to bloodshed to end his marriage and collect $100,000 in insurance money.

DiBartolo says he and his wife were attacked as they were preparing to get in their van and leave the park. Two men tried to rob them, he said.

DiBartolo said he was knocked to the ground. One man grabbed Patty’s handgun from the glove box in the van and fired the fatal shot. A second shot wounded DiBartolo in the abdomen.

Weeks later, DiBartolo knew police still considered him a suspect, Harrison testified.

She said she tried to comfort him by saying the delay in ruling him out as the killer wasn’t unusual in such a big case.

As Christmas approached, she said DiBartolo complained about financial troubles, caused in part by his inability to return to work full time. On sick leave from the department, he had not yet been suspended.

Counting on the insurance money, DiBartolo told her he had several house projects he wanted to finish.

“He was upset with the detectives. He said they had stopped the money from coming in,” Harrison said.

Describing herself as her sister’s best friend, Harrison said Patty was a confident woman “who never shied away from confrontations.”

Jurors also heard testimony from a gun expert who said powder burns on DiBartolo’s shirt and abdomen contradict his account of how he was wounded.

DiBartolo told investigators he jumped at the man who fired the shot that killed his wife. Trying to take the gun away, he said he twisted the man’s arm and then was wounded as the gun fired a second shot.

He told police the man’s arm - and the gun - was turned sideways or nearly upside-down.

But ballistics expert Ed Robinson said the gun used that night, a .38-caliber Charter Arms pistol, leaves a distinct L-shaped burn mark.

DiBartolo’s blood-stained plaid shirt - and his skin next to the wound - show that L-shape. But it’s not the pattern an upside-down or sideways shot would have caused, Robinson said.

Based on tests he conducted, DiBartolo’s burn marks came when the gun was fired at close range, right-side up.

In other testimony, a man who said he was a good friend of DiBartolo’s said he helped the former deputy cope with the tragedy by arranging a double date at The Coeur d’Alene Resort days after Patty’s funeral.

Ed Gorman testified he was part of a foursome that spent the night at the hotel. DiBartolo was paired with Christine Ritchie, his current girlfriend.

Witnesses testified previously that a woman matching Ritchie’s description kissed DiBartolo in his hospital bed, hours after he took his wife’s body to Sacred Heart Medical Center.

The night of the murder, Gorman said he was driving a tour bus that stopped in Missoula. He arranged to come back and visit DiBartolo at the hospital the next morning.

There, DiBartolo described the struggle with the gunman as twisting the man’s arm “to the right and down,” Gorman testified.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

WHAT’S NEXT

Prosecutors plan to use family members and other witnesses to argue DiBartolo resorted to bloodshed to end his marriage and collect $100,000 in insurance.

Scheduled to take the stand Monday are the defendant’s two oldest children: Michelle Robinson, 21, and Nick DiBartolo, 17.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT Prosecutors plan to use family members and other witnesses to argue DiBartolo resorted to bloodshed to end his marriage and collect $100,000 in insurance. Scheduled to take the stand Monday are the defendant’s two oldest children: Michelle Robinson, 21, and Nick DiBartolo, 17.


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