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Man deemed fit for trial in killings

The psychiatrists' finding comes four years after five people were slaughtered in a Seffner home.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
Published October 23, 2004

TAMPA - Four years have passed since sheriff's deputies found 25-year-old Dexter Levingston crouched in the garage at 4217 Lakewood Drive, the only person left alive in a Seffner home that had become a slaughtering ground.

Stabbed to death were Nancy Marlins, the grandmother who doted on Levingston; her sister Lillie Cacciamani; and Michele Murtha, a young girl in Marlins' care. Shot in the head were Cacciamani's husband, Barry, and her daughter, Connie Carter.

One after another, authorities say, Levingston waited for his housemates to come home and killed them, using two guns, a knife, a machete, a screwdriver and scissors.

Charged with five killings, Levingston has spent much of the last four years at a state mental hospital, visited by psychiatrists who have repeatedly deemed him mentally unfit to stand trial.

After recent interviews with him, however, those same psychiatrists deemed Levingston mentally competent, clearing the way for his trial.

"It's about time," said Wandi Willis, sister of Barry Cacciamani. She said she thinks Levingston has been faking mental illness.

"He knew what he was doing," Willis said. "He wasn't crazy."

Although Levingston is back in the Hillsborough County Jail, lawyers on both sides expect it may be a year or more before the case goes before a jury.

No depositions have yet been taken, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, which complicates the process. There is also a small mountain of forensic evidence taken from the house, including a slab of blood-spattered concrete investigators cut out of the garage floor.

"The case is really just kind of beginning right now," said Assistant Public Defender John Skye.

There is also the possibility that Levingston's condition may deteriorate while he is in county custody, delaying the trial again.

From the nature of the crime to the mental state of the defendant since his arrest, Skye said, "It's a very, very bizarre and unusual situation."

Much remains unclear about what motivated the killings on Oct. 20, 2000, but witnesses said tension had been brewing in the home. It was particularly sharp between Barry Cacciamani, who moved into the house after financial setbacks, and Levingston, who had amassed a criminal record.

Willis, Barry Cacciamani's sister, recounted a conversation with her brother shortly before his death. Cacciamani said Levingston had punched his wife, Lillie, and that he tussled with Levingston when he tried to break up the confrontation.

"It was going on for a couple of months, that he was having a problem," Willis said.

She said her brother wanted out of the house. "Barry was very upset, because Dexter's grandmother was defending him all the time," she said. "I knew there was a problem, but I didn't know it had come to that. Dexter was just used to being the man in the house."

Levingston had prior charges of marijuana possession, shoplifting, obstruction of justice, and misdemeanor battery, for which he served probation.

Among those killed was 12-year-old Michele Murtha, a mentally retarded girl who came to Nancy Marlins' home in July 2000 after her parents decided she should be in a residential facility. Murtha's parents said they allowed their daughter to live there on the state's assurance it would be a temporary stay until a bed became available at a group home. Marlins had taken other children into her home for brief stays.

Michele Murtha's parents are now suing the state, claiming it was negligent in monitoring the girl after she moved into the home. "Clearly, this child should not have been living with someone of this background," said attorney Richard Hirsch, who represents the parents.

When the civil suit went to trial in August 2003, a judge declared a mistrial after Michele's mother, Patricia, grew too distraught to go on. Hirsch said defense arguments upset Mrs. Murtha. "The defense in this case is she made a choice to abandon the child to Ms. Marlins," Hirsch said.

The case is set for trial again in February. This time, Hirsch said, he will advise Patricia Murtha not to sit through all the testimony. Hirsch said the psychiatrists' declaration that Levingston can stand trial does not affect the civil case.

Though four years have passed, "It seems like it happened yesterday," said Anton Cacciamani, Barry Cacciamani's brother, of Salem, N.J. "You go to bed thinking about it, and you wake up thinking about it. He's buried about two miles down the street for me, and I pass him every day."

Since his brother's murder, Anton Cacciamani said, two other brothers have died of cancer. "They were so heartbroken over what happened to Barry, it seemed like they didn't want to fight," he said. "My three brothers are buried together."

Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813 226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 23, 2004, 01:12:14]


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