Trial for Teen Accused of Murdering TV Pundit Daniel Horowtiz's Wife Begins

A high-profile defense attorney who rose to prominence as a television commentator during Scott Peterson's murder trial returned to the airwaves last fall to discuss another grisly killing.

Only this time the victim was his wife, and the crime scene was his home.

Now, the couple's 17-year-old neighbor is on trial in the slaying of 52-year-old Pamela Vitale.

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As a successful criminal lawyer, Daniel Horowitz has never shied away from publicity. He appeared regularly on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News, and has represented high-profile clients including former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, accused of money laundering and fraud, and Steve Williams, who snagged Barry Bonds' 700th home run ball.

A gag order prohibited him from talking about Vitale's murder as attorneys selected jurors and prepared to make their opening statements Thursday. A jury was sworn in Tuesday.

Horowitz found his wife's bludgeoned body Oct. 15 in the living room of the trailer they were temporarily living in while building their dream home in the wooded hills of Lafayette, east of San Francisco Bay.

Horowitz called police just before 6 p.m. and screamed, "Help me. She's dead."

Vitale had apparently fought back against her attacker. She suffered defensive wounds — broken bones in her hand, scratches and bruises on her arms. There was a four-inch-deep stab wound in her abdomen and deep cuts in her lower back in the shape of an H.

Suspicion was first cast on drug dealers, death row inmates and other serious criminals Horowitz had defended as Vitale had worked at her husband's law office.

Scrutiny next turned to a man living in a camper on a four-acre lot adjacent to the couple's property. Horowitz had sought a restraining order against the man, who, he said, drank heavily and used drugs.

"It had to be somebody who knew us and knew our schedule and our house and our property," he said at the time.

Then, four days after the killing, police arrested Scott Dyleski, then 16. He lived with his mother down the road from Vitale and Horowitz.

By many accounts, he was a sensitive and creative boy devastated by his half-sister's 2002 death in a car crash.

According to preliminary testimony and police documents, Dyleski and a friend were buying marijuana-growing equipment using credit card information and addresses stolen from their neighbors, including Horowitz and Vitale.

When one company denied a purchase — apparently scheduled for shipping to Horowitz and Vitale's address — Dyleski told his friend he would take care of it.

A day later, Vitale was dead.

Dyleski decided to confess to the credit card scheme to avoid suspicion in the murder case, the friend told investigators.

He was arrested the following day, and investigators found a duffel bag of bloody clothing and other evidence linking Dyleski to Vitale. The bag, with a tag bearing Dyleski's name, was found in an abandoned van on the property where he lived.

His mother, Esther Fielding, initially was arrested on suspicion of destroying evidence, but charges were dropped after she agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Robert Talbot, law professor at the University of San Francisco, said Fielding's testimony will be key.

Talbot acknowledged it was "a big stretch going from a plot to distribute marijuana to murder, particularly when there's nothing in his background."

Yearbook photos show Dyleski's transformation from fresh-faced middle schooler to brooding teenager with black-rimmed eyes. But while some former classmates described him as a morose oddball who kept to himself, others insisted he was basically a good kid who tested out of Acalanes High School early.

His stepfather, Glenn Hirschberger, described him as a "thoughtful, intelligent young man" incapable of the brutal attack on Vitale.

Investigators also found a CD cover by the industrial dance band "Velvet Acid Christ." A symbol in the liner notes echoes the symbol that Vitale's killer crudely scrawled on her back.

Dyleski's friend testified that after moving into Dyleski's old bedroom, he found a handwritten list outlining a murder plot.

Dyleski has been in custody since his arrest. He is being tried as an adult. If convicted, he could face life in prison; he is not eligible for the death penalty.

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