September 25, 2006
By Jason Dearen, STAFF WRITER
OAKLAND — Less than one month ago, a jury convicted 17-year-old Scott Dyleski of the first-degree murder of Pamela Vitale, and today a judge will sentence the teenager and determine whether or not he will ever qualify for parole.
Dyleski, who turns 18 next month, was 16 when he killed the 52-year-old Vitale on Oct. 15 — a fact that Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga can factor in when determining his future chances for parole. Vitale’s husband, well-known defense attorney Daniel Horowitz, found his wife’s body after returning to their Lafayette home from work at 6 p.m., Oct. 15. She had been bludgeoned to death, and a symbol resembling an “H” had been etched into her back.
The jury determined Dyleski murdered Vitale during the commission of a burglary — which under California law qualifies as a special circumstance and qualified Dyleski for a sentence of life without parole.
On Thursday, Dyleski defense attorney Ellen Leonida — citing her client’s troubled upbringing and lack of criminal or violent history — filed a memorandum asking the judge to consider giving the teenager a chance for parole.
When Scott moved to Lafayette, he was in the sixth grade. He and his mother lived outdoors, in a lean-to shack, constructed of straw and mud, Leonida wrote. She said the lean-to was rat-infested and that Dyleski lived without running water or electricity.
Despite these facts, legal experts say it is highly unlikely the judge will impose the lesser sentence.
However, the judge could act as a “13th juror”, setting aside the special circumstance or finding that a sentence of life without parole is cruel and unusual punishment, said Jay Gaskill, former Alameda County public defender.
“(Id be) shocked if the trial judge even seriously entertains reducing the sentence from life without parole to life with parole”, Gaskill said. “Each of these lenient decisions would be subject to an appeal by the district attorney. The appeal would take a year or two and in the end the life without parole sentence would probably be restored.”
On Oct. 19, police arrested Dyleski after a friend with whom he had conspired to buy marijuana-growing equipment using stolen credit cards came forward to police. The friend told investigators about the pot-growing scheme and that Dyleski had become paranoid in the days after Vitale’s killing, saying he was worried his DNA would be found on Vitale’s body.
The six men and six women of the jury took just more than 18 hours to reach their decision.
In her memorandum, Leonida also focused on Dyleski’s parents, Esther Fielding and Kenneth Dyleski, and their alleged lack of concern for their sons well-being.
The fact that Esther Fielding describes the years they spent in a lean-to as fun and like camping is a telling example of the profound narcissism that defines the adults in Scotts life, Leonida wrote.
Even with these obvious setbacks in his childhood and formative years, some of Dyleskis friends and teachers testified he was a bright and talented teenager. Because of Scott Dyleskis youth and lack of criminal record, he should be given a chance to apply for parole in the future, Leonida wrote.
If this court can say that any 17-year-old is completely and permanently beyond redemption, that certainly cannot be said about Scott Dyleski.
Copyright 2006 by The Oakland Tribune