4th DCA (Melanie Bell)
A Boynton Beach newlywed convicted of hiring a man to kill her husband is entitled to a new trial, the Fourth District Court of Appeal decided Wednesday.
Dalia Dippolito “jumped out of her seat and was just really delighted,” said Robert Sirianni Jr., one of her appellate lawyers from the Brownstone firm in Winter Park. He called his client as soon as he saw the decision.
Dippolito has been on house arrest on $500,000 bail pending the appeal. While awaiting the ruling she pursued hobbies including meditation and working out, Sirianni said.
The case attracted worldwide attention in 2009 when Boynton Beach police videotaped Dippolito dramatically reacting to news that her husband had been killed. The video went viral on YouTube.
Actually, the “hit man” was an undercover officer and Michael, her husband—now ex-husband—was unscathed.
At trial, Dippolito argued her husband staged the incident in hopes of becoming a reality TV star.
Prosecutors contended Dippolito wanted so badly to keep her new husband’s townhouse and void a $90,000 debt, she paid the undercover cop $3,000 to shoot him.
Dippolito was convicted of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The case’s notoriety played a big role in winning a retrial.
Before and during her 2011 trial, Dippolito’s lawyers repeatedly sought to individually question jurors about their knowledge of the case, but Palm Beach Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath refused.
A potential juror mentioned during group questioning reading “an allegation that [Dippolito] had tried to poison her husband with antifreeze. That was in the Palm Beach Post,” the Fourth District opinion states.
The juror’s prejudicial statement should have triggered individual voir dire, Judge Martha Warner wrote for a unanimous panel. She was joined by Chief Judge Dorian Damoorgian and Judge Melanie May.
Colbath’s refusal to allow more focused questioning “posed the danger that one juror’s response could taint the entire panel.
“That is in fact what occurred when one juror mentioned the poisoning allegation,” Warner wrote.
For the state, Assistant Attorney General John Klawikofsky argued the juror’s statement was harmless and didn’t affect the outcome.
“This was an isolated comment from one juror that did not taint the entire panel,” Klawikofsky wrote in response to the appeal.
Sirianni said he’s not entirely sure there will be a new trial. “It depends on whether the alleged victim will participate and if we can get all the witnesses” five years after the incident.
“The importance of this opinion is that if she does get a new trial, we want to make sure it’s not swayed by the media or public opinion,” he said. “Even if there’s national exposure in a case, you can’t have jurors that are going to base their opinions on rumor or conjecture.”
He said the opinion confirms any suggestion of jury contamination should be addressed immediately.
“Instead, we had to go through a three-week trial and a lengthy appeal process,” Sirianni said.