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In Florida, a strange case involving murder and makeup

Posted by Jesse Singal  December 7, 2010 02:56 PM

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This article from Sunday's Times is fascinating. It reports on the case of John Ditullio, a man who just went on trial for a murder in Florida and who has two offensive tattooed on his neck — a swastika and what the Times termed "a rude expression."

Ditullio is represented by a public defender, and the state is paying a cosmetologist $125 per day during the trial to cover up his tattoos so as to ensure that he gets a fair trial.

This did not make the mother of one of the victim happy, to say the least:

Charlene Bricken... said she was outraged that the defendant would receive a court-approved makeover. "Did somebody tie him down while he was in jail and put these tattoos on him?" she asked angrily.

Ms. Bricken said that she had “no doubt” Mr. Ditullio was guilty — he sent a taunting Christmas card to the family from prison — and that the judge was "bending over backwards for the criminal."

It's hard not to empathize with Bricken, of course. But at the same time the issues she raises aren't relevant. Whether or not Ditullio chose to get the tattoo, whether or not he sent the despicable-sounding card — even whether or not he is guilty — these have nothing to do with the question at hand, which is whether someone being charged with a crime could expect to have a fair trial if they had a swastika tattoo. The answer to that is probably no.

The story is filled with interesting nuggets and worth a full read, but one other part jumped out:

Mike Halkitis, the division director for the state attorney’s office in New Port Richey, where the trial will be held, said that he fought the "absurd" request for a cosmetic cover-up last year, and that taxpayers should not have to pay for it.

While a richer defendant could pay for cosmetics or even tattoo removal, “the indigent defendant isn’t entitled to the same defense an affluent defendant can get,” he said. “That’s case law.”

That's pretty surprising. The right to a fair trial is a universal one, so you would think that either defendants can have cosmetic tweaks done, or they can't — not that only non-indigent ones can.

tags crime, Florida
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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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