Murder-for-hire case shown on ‘Cops’ heads to third trial

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Prosecutors appeared cocky during Dalia Dippolito’s second trial on charges she tried to hire a hitman to kill her newlywed husband, a case that gained international attention when video of the former escort’s alleged solicitation became an internet sensation and appeared on the TV shows “Cops” and “20/20.”

After getting slapped by a 3-3 hung jury last December, assistant state attorneys Craig Williams and Laura Laurie will likely call more than two witnesses this time.

They made it clear in pretrial motions that they will present a more robust case, perhaps even calling her ex-husband, convicted conman Michael Dippolito. Jury selection began Friday in Dippolito’s third trial.

That’s what the case’s original prosecutors did during Dalia Dippolito’s 2011 trial, which resulted in a quick conviction that was overturned on appeal because of jury selection issues. But in the retrial, Williams and Laurie relied primarily on videotape of Dippolito’s alleged solicitation and testimony by the fake hit man, Officer Widy Jean. That strategy backfired as Dippolito’s new defense team attacked the Boynton Beach police investigation.

Defense attorneys Brian Claypool and Craig Rosenfeld said detectives set up their client and cut corners to impress “Cops” producers, who happened to be in town when the case broke in the summer of 2009. They argued detectives hoped the TV show would make them famous — a contention that apparently swayed some jurors.

Still, Claypool and Rosenfeld don’t plan to refight the last war, either. They want to call a body language expert to testify that Dippolito didn’t mean it when she told Jean she wanted her husband killed. They also have an expert who would testify Dippolito suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of domestic abuse, making her susceptible to manipulation by detectives and their informant.

Judge Glenn Kelley ruled Thursday the domestic abuse expert can testify. He said the body language expert can also testify if it’s part of an entrapment defense but said that probably means Dippolito must testify. That would allow prosecutors to raise her previous contention she was acting during her meeting with Jean in hopes of starring in a reality TV show with her husband. That defense flopped in her first trial.

Kelley barred both sides from discussing the case, but court documents and pretrial hearings reveal their likely strategies. Dippolito, 34, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of solicitation of first-degree murder.