Unless a second round of appeals in her case proves as fruitful as the first, Dalia Dippolito’s infant son could be well into his teens by the time his mother gets out of prison for the 2009 plot to kill her now ex-husband, Michael.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley sentenced the 34-year-old former Boynton Beach newlywed to 16 years in prison for solicitation to commit first-degree murder Friday, knocking four years off the 20-year sentence that Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath previously gave Dippolito in 2011 and rejecting her request for a punishment below the four-year minimum recommended sentence.
The emotional and at times contentious four-hour sentencing comes more than a month after a jury in Dippolito’s third trial took about half that time in their deliberations to convict Dippolito. It marked her second conviction in six years in the case, which made her the subject of international headlines when a video of her crying at what turned out to be a faked crime scene went viral.
For Dippolito defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld, who said he shed tears when putting together his thoughts for Friday’s hearing, the outcome was disappointing for a woman he said led “an exemplary, impeccable life” outside of the time investigators recorded her telling a Boynton Beach police officer posing as a hit man that she was “5,000 percent sure” she wanted him dead.
Assistant State Attorney Craig Williams, on the other hand, pointed right at Dippolito and told Kelley she was a “master manipulator.” Along with Assistant State Attorney Laura Burkhart Laurie, Williams had asked Kelley to go beyond even Colbath’s sentence to give Dippolito the maximum 30 years allowed by law.
At the center of it all, Michael Dippolito sat and listened as prosecutors again read text messages and transcripts and played audio and video recordings outlining his now ex-wife’s attempts to plant drugs on him, have him sent to jail, poison him and ultimately have him shot twice in the head.
“People tell me ‘you’re really lucky to be alive,’ and I’m like, ‘I guess.’ But I still have to go through all of this,” Michael Dippolito told Kelley Friday, testifying as the only witness for the entire hearing. “It’s not even real. It’s like I can’t even believe we’re still sitting here like this girl didn’t even try to do this.”
Rosenfeld, armed with dozens of letters from Dippolito’s family members, neighbors and friends, said the Dalia Dippolito portrayed by her now ex-husband and prosecutors offered a look at only a small slice of her 34-years of life that was in no way reflective of who she is now.
Rosenfeld and Dippolito’s California attorney, Brian Claypool, outlined Dippolito’s turbulent childhood in a lengthy sentencing memorandum, claiming she grew up watching her father abuse and cheat on her mother and struggled with issues of loneliness and abandonment.
Claypool, whom Dippolito asked to represent her after she watched him make the rounds as a legal pundit on cable television news shows, couldn’t make it to Friday’s sentencing hearing because of an undisclosed medical issue but appeared briefly by phone before Rosenfeld took over, saying that Claypool had to go to a hospital.
“I never preached to anyone that Dalia Dippolito was a choir girl,” Claypool said during his short appearance, quickly adding, however, that the abuse she’d suffered made her vulnerable at the time the plot unfolded.
But as to Michael Dippolito’s claims that he met his former wife while she was working as an escort, Rosenfeld drew the line.
“I’ll deny that until the day I die,” he said.
Rosenfeld in a sentencing memorandum described Michael Dippolito as emotionally and physically abusive. Dalia Dippolito’s mother, Randa Mohammed, said she never liked Michael Dippolito.
Michael Dippolito referred to the statements in the written documents as being “full of lies” and wondered aloud to the judge how his ex-wife’s defense lawyers could even give him something so inaccurate to consider.
On advice from Rosenfeld, Dippolito didn’t address the judge on her own behalf. But Rosenfeld said the case was driven purely by “media sensationalism” and self-interests from those uninterested in getting to know the real Dalia Dippolito.
She is, Rosenfeld said, a kindhearted, deeply spiritual and deeply loyal mother, daughter, sister and friend.
A contentious moment in the hearing came when Williams brought up the fact that Dippolito hid from the court the fact that she’d had a child. He told the judge that he believed the boy was just a token Dippolito used.
Kelley, cutting short Williams’ arguments about Dippolito’s son, told attorneys for both sides that it was equally plausible that Dippolito had the baby because she simply wanted a child or because she thought it would manipulate the judge into giving her a lighter sentence.
Either way, Kelley said, it had little bearing on his ultimate decision about her sentence. And while he hoped Dippolito had become a better person in her eight years on house arrest, and thought it a good thing that he’d grown strong in her Christian faith, he said he wouldn’t consider that seriously in determining her sentence either.
Kelley also he didn’t give much weight to claims that Boynton Beach police acted improperly in the investigation to impress a COPS television show crew, a claim that had been a cornerstone of Dippolito’s defense and a driving factor behind why a previous jury who heard evidence in the case in December was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
“I don’t believe law enforcement should be theater,” he said, but added, “Their actions probably saved the life of Michael Dippoilto.”
So what did move the judge?
Kelley said it was Michael Dippolito, whose testimony both at trial and during the sentencing he found “compelling.”
When Rosenfeld on Friday confronted Michael Dippolito about claims that he didn’t care about her sentence as long as she repaid the $100,000 that Michael said she swindled from him, Michael Dippolito, a convicted felon in his own right, responded by asking the defense attorney whether he had a check for him right then.
Kelley said he also considered that, according to the testimony at trial, Dalia Dippolito had been manipulating up to three men at once.
Those two factors alone would have been enough for Kelley to give Dippolito a 20-year sentence, he said, but he also considered two mitigating factors seriously: Dippolito’s lack of prior criminal record and the eight years she’s spent on house arrest.
“It’s easy to get lost, with the press about the case and the defendant, what happened to the victim in the case and that’s where we tried to keep our focus,” Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg said after the hearing, shaking off Rosenfeld’s suggestion that the prosecution was politically motivated. “We’ve always been here to do justice for the victim, and that’s what happened today.”
Rosenfeld, meanwhile, vowed to immediately appeal the case, hoping for a repeat of a 2014 appellate court decision that threw out Dippolito’s 2011 conviction and Colbath’s 20-year sentence. Their most promising grounds so far rest on allegations that one of the jurors in the June trial fell asleep through critical parts of testimony.
Though Rosenfeld declined to say who will care for Dippolito’s son when she goes to prison, he said she took the news of her new sentence courageously.
“Dalia’s an incredibly strong person,” he said. “I know the public has a different opinion of her, but Dalia Dippolito is not the person that people think she is. She’s not the same person she was eight years ago.”