By Missy Diaz South Florida Sun-Sentinel
5:14 PM EDT, June 24, 2008
Although Vincent Puglisi may not have delivered any of the 37 stab wounds or 83 blunt force injuries that killed Curious George collaborator Alan Shalleck, the prosecutor argued, Puglisi was just as guilty as the man who did. After just 90 minutes of deliberations on Tuesday, a 12-member jury agreed. They convicted the 56-year-old Puglisi of first-degree murder and robbery with deadly weapon.
Puglisi will return to court next month to find out if he will spend the rest of his life in prison or die by lethal injection for his crimes. He showed no visible reaction to the jury's decision.
The plan to rob and kill Shalleck was hatched over a pizza shared between Puglisi and Rex Ditto as the sadomasochistic lovers watched the 2006 Super Bowl in a Fort Lauderdale restaurant.
The men needed $450 to move so they decided robbing and killing Shalleck, a 76-year-old retiree with little money, during a spanking party would be the best way to solve their financial quandary.
Puglisi had known Shalleck for a year, meeting him through an ad in a gay magazine in which Shalleck sought spanking partners.
Just before midnight on Feb. 5, 2006 - Super Bowl Sunday - Puglisi and Ditto arrived at Shalleck's Boynton Beach mobile home for what was supposed to be a night of consensual sex among friends. When it was over, Shalleck's lifeless body, wrapped in plastic garbage bags and drained of nearly all the blood, lay in his driveway.
In Puglisi's confession to police, he recounted that as Ditto, 32, and Shalleck, engaged in a sex act, Ditto "freaked out" and began strangling Shalleck.
When Shalleck wouldn't die, Ditto grabbed one of Shalleck's spanking paddles and clubbed him repeatedly in the head. When that didn't do the job, Ditto retrieved a steak knife from the kitchen, plunging it into Shalleck until the cutlery broke. When a second knife also broke Ditto resorted to a butcher knife, but Shalleck kept fighting, according to Puglisi.
In Tuesday's closing arguments, Assistant State Attorney Andy Slater convinced jurors that Puglisi acted as principal to Ditto in the killing.
"They were acting in concert in furtherance of the same common plan" to rob and kill Shalleck, he said. Puglisi admitted to holding a pillow over Shalleck's face while Ditto savaged him. Puglisi also helped steal Shalleck's jewelry, watch and a checkbook.
The defense painted a picture of Puglisi as a simple-minded, co-dependent follower who would do anything for another man's affection. That's what led him to collude with Ditto, a young, handsome and "crazy" arsonist who landed in South Florida following Hurricane Katrina, Assistant Public Defender Shari Vrod opined.
"Mr. Puglisi's sin was that he did absolutely nothing (to stop the killing)," Vrod said. "He stole, he lied, he covered up. He may be morally reprehensible, despicable ... but that doesn't make him guilty of a murder."
When the penalty phase begins July 21, the defense will likely address the issue of proportionality. Ditto last year took a plea deal that removed the death penalty as an option.
Missy Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-228-5505.