Best pal testifies at teen's murder trial
By Lisa Sweetingham
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MARTINEZ, California (Court TV) -- Accused teen killer Scott Dyleski watched his best friend testify Wednesday about their marijuana smoking, credit-card scams and the tip that led police to Dyleski.
Dyleski, 17, is on trial for the October 15, 2005, bludgeoning death of his neighbor, 52-year-old Pamela Jean Vitale.
"How do you feel about testifying when your friend Scott is on trial for murder?" prosecutor Harold Jewett asked Robin Croen.
"Not that great," Croen, 17, replied.
Vitale, a mother of two and wife of prominent Bay Area defense attorney Daniel Horowitz, was killed on a Saturday morning in her home in Lafayette, a woodsy neighborhood some 20 miles east of San Francisco.
Dyleski has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and the special circumstance of committing a murder during a burglary. He is being tried as an adult and faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
Dyleski was arrested October 19, after Croen told police about a credit-card scheme the boys concocted to buy marijuana-growing equipment online. Dyleski was in charge of getting the account numbers and ordering the equipment. Croen did the research.
But their plan never materialized. A sharp-eyed vendor refused to ship the orders, suspecting the cards were stolen.
Credit card numbers stolen
E-mail records indicate that Dyleski used the stolen credit card numbers of two neighbors to order grow lights. Vitale's name and credit information were not used, but her address was. According to testimony, Vitale had never met Dyleski before she was slain.
When members of Croen and Dyleski's family discovered the boys' scheme days after Vitale's murder, they were concerned to see her address entered as a "ship to" location among the fraudulent orders.
Croen's family hired an attorney, and the boy agreed to cooperate in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the identity-theft plot.
He wore his curly brown hair parted down the middle in a loose ponytail. He swiveled absentmindedly in the witness chair and gave short responses. He avoided eye contact with Dyleski, except to identify him in the courtroom.
Dyleski nodded his head slightly at times, as if in recognition, but he remained emotionless.
Dyleski was a close friend since eighth grade, Croen said, and the two smoked marijuana together "once or twice," before they hatched a plan to grow their own.
Croen had trouble recalling the details of the scheme and was not certain how Dyleski received the stolen account numbers.
"You know we have your e-mails?" Jewett asked Croen.
"Yes," he said.
"So, between the two of you, in this scheme, you were kind of the leader?" Jewett said.
"No," Croen said, adding later, "it was his idea."
"What was his idea?" Jewett asked.
"To use credit cards," Croen said.
Earlier Wednesday, Deputy Sheriff Philip Venable read to jurors from e-mails the teens exchanged days before Vitale's murder.
"The larger the order, prob the more likely it is to be noticed," read one e-mail from Croen to Dyleski. "We dun want them to notice a fatty bill on the next statement. That's it. Let's do it."
"Stealthiness is the number one priority," Dyleski wrote to Croen in all capital letters. "Don't do anything if there is any shred of detection."
Venable agreed that the boys did not make any reference to Vitale. They did not discuss breaking into homes to steal account information. And they did not discuss harming anyone as part of their plan.
Suspicions about order
Jackie Jahosky, owner of Specialty-Lights.com, testified about online orders and two "strange" phone calls.
"In my mind, it was fraud, he knew it was fraud, he knew that I knew it was fraud, so I didn't know why he was calling," Jahosky said.
Jahosky said she received three orders in the early morning hours of October 13 for grow-light systems, cooling hoses and fans items Dyleski and Croen needed to cultivate marijuana plants in a closet to be shipped next-day air.
Jahosky said she sent a standard reply indicating there was a problem with the credit card and the order would not be shipped.
The next day, she said, she received a phone call that records indicate originated at Dyleski's home.
"He sounded a little odd to me. The whole thing was just odd," Jahosky said. "The person sounded young and almost like they were trying to disguise their voice somewhat. I just thought the whole thing was so strange."
Jahosky didn't tell the caller that she suspected credit-card fraud, but told him she could not ship merchandise when the billing and shipping addresses did not match.
Croen said he got a call from Dyleski that Friday afternoon. "He left a message saying that some of it hadn't gone through and he was going to try to find a way to make it work," Croen said.
Bloody clothes in bag
Vitale was bludgeoned to death at about 10 a.m. the following day. She had been sitting sat in her living room, surfing Web sites about genealogy and news of her husband's recent case.
A search of Dyleski's property turned up bloody clothes in a duffel bag with the teen's name on it. The evidence allegedly contained DNA from both Vitale and Dyleski.
The defense says a third DNA profile found on some of the items points to Vitale's real killer.
An investigator testified Wednesday about a black trench coat, long black glove, and black balaclava he found in the duffel bag. He held the balaclava up for jurors to view. It was made of a thin black fabric, and exposed only the wearer's eyes, like a ski mask, or a ninja-style head covering.
Croen told jurors that he did not recognize the trench coat as one belonging to Dyleski.
Dyleski's attorney says the teen may be guilty of identity theft, but that he was a kind, gentle college student who had nothing to do with Vitale's murder.
"Did Scott ever talk about breaking into anyone's house?" Leonida asked Croen.
"No," he said.
"Did he ever talk about kidnapping anyone?" she asked. "Hurting anyone?"
"No," Croen replied.
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