By Missy Diaz
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
October 19, 2007
Rex Ditto got his wish Thursday. He will die of natural causes in a Florida prison rather than risk being strapped to a gurney and having a lethal cocktail of drugs pumped through his system until his heart stops beating.
Ditto, a 31-year-old from Mobile, Ala., with a long history of mental illness, pleaded guilty to the 2006 stabbing death of 76-year-old Alan Shalleck, a collaborator of the Curious George children's books.
Shalleck was beaten and stabbed more than 100 times and nearly had his genitals severed. The killing occurred during a sadomasochistic sexual tryst at Shalleck's Boynton Beach mobile home.
Ditto's lover and co-defendant, Vincent Puglisi, 56, is to go to trial sometime next year. He faces the death penalty if convicted as charged.
"Mr. Shalleck was brutalized," Ditto attorney Robert Gershman said after Thursday's court hearing. "It was a horrible, horrible crime scene ... with no reasonable explanation."
Earlier this year, Ditto wrote Circuit Judge Edward Garrison a letter confessing his part in the crime. He has given numerous, conflicting statements to police, the media and prosecutors, Assistant State Attorney Andy Slater said. Earlier this month, the judge declined to remove the death penalty as an option for Ditto, who sought to plead guilty to Shalleck's murder and robbery in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.
On Oct. 11, the state allowed Ditto to give another statement. This time, Slater said, Ditto's version of events jibed with the physical evidence.
An evening of three-way sex had been arranged among Ditto, Puglisi and Shalleck on Super Bowl Sunday 2006, according to police.
According to Slater, Shalleck paddled Ditto until Ditto grabbed the paddle and began beating Shalleck in the head. Puglisi, an Oakland Park restaurant worker, then tried smothering Shalleck while Ditto held his legs.
When that didn't work, Puglisi, according to Slater, retrieved some knives and began stabbing Shalleck until Ditto took the cutlery and attacked Shalleck. Ditto told prosecutors that he did so in an effort to expedite Shalleck's death.
Ditto and Puglisi wrapped the body in garbage bags and tried dragging it to their vehicle — with the goal of dumping it in the Everglades — but abandoned it outside Shalleck's home when they were unable to lift it, Slater said.
They later pawned some of Shalleck's possessions for $450. Puglisi, according to Slater, disposed of the paddle and knives in Fort Lauderdale's New River.
While in the Palm Beach County Jail, Ditto has tried to sever his own genitals, Gershman said. Ditto has battled mental health issues most of his life, including hearing voices, the attorney said. He wanted to plead guilty and avoid a trial to spare himself a death sentence and to spare his parents the gory details of his sex life and the crime.
"The circumstances left little to be argued for a sentence of non-death," Gershman said.
Puglisi declined a similar plea offer by the state and plans to go to trial, according to Assistant Public Defender Shari Vrod.
Missy Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-228-5505.