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Massacre suspect's silence stymies law


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001

TAMPA -- Since being charged in October with the gruesome murders of his grandmother, great-aunt, great-uncle, cousin and a disabled girl in his grandmother's care, no one has been able to figure out what's going on in Dexter Levingston's head.

Not his attorneys, not his mother and stepfather, not the court-appointed psychiatrists who were supposed to determine if Levingston is competent to stand trial.

On Wednesday, Levingston's attorneys recommended that he be committed to an institution with the resources to penetrate his wall of silence and determine if he's mentally able to defend himself against five first-degree murder charges.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe agreed and ordered that Levingston be transferred to the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee.

Levingston, 25, suffered spinal meningitis as a baby and the illness left him deaf in one ear and with 10 percent hearing in the other, his family said. His brain stem was damaged and he is mildly retarded, they said.

Fannie Dennis, Levingston's mother, said she is relieved by Wednesday's decision.

In the days after his arrest, she said, Levingston couldn't hear because his hearing aid, found covered in blood in the Seffner home where the victims were slain, has been kept as evidence. Instead of talking, she said, he simultaneously laughed and cried.

"I'm happy that he's finally going to get treatment," Mrs. Dennis said. "Whatever happened at that house was very devastating to him. I still don't think that he did it. I don't believe that he could do it."

Nothing in his life would have given anyone reason to believe he was capable of the slaughter he is charged with committing.

Investigators said he used guns, a knife and scissors to kill his grandmother, Nancy Marlins, 57; her sister, Lillie Cacciamani, 56; Lillie's daughter, Connie Carter, 40; Lillie's husband, Barry Cacciamani, 47; and a 12-year-old disabled girl in Marlins' care named Michele Murtha.

Bodies were found throughout the house, and investigators said it appeared Levingston had killed his grandmother and the child, then waited for the others to arrive home. He was arrested in the garage, where two of the bodies were found covered in trash.

He has never spoken about the killings.

William Dennis, who became Dexter's stepfather shortly after his birth, continues to hold out hope that his stepson is innocent.

"He was not cruel. He was not mean," Dennis said. "He was basically a guy who couldn't hear, who didn't have the depth of understanding of everybody else."

Levingston was born June 23, 1975, in Bunnell, the town where his mother grew up. His biological father was not a significant part of his life, but his stepfather has been there from the beginning.

Dennis said that when Levingston was a toddler and a young child, he and his wife assumed his illness had made him slower than other children. He said doctors at clinics never told them he was deaf.

At age 7 or 8, he was adopted by his great-aunt, Denise Levingston, one of his grandmother's six sisters. She and her husband were in the military and had access to better doctors, who diagnosed his disability and gave him a hearing aid.

As the family traveled the world in the military, Dexter attended mainstream schools and tried to keep up. In an interview given shortly after Dexter's arrest, his mother said his below-normal IQ made it difficult to keep up.

Although frustrated, he never got angry or violent, said Mrs. Levingston, who described him as "kind and loving."

As a teenager, Levingston returned to Tampa and attended Chamberlain High School.

There, principal Henry Washington said, he didn't stand out among the 2,300 students. He took special education classes, stayed out of trouble and didn't get involved in extracurricular activities.

His class photo is the only time he is pictured in the 1994 yearbook, his senior year. He would never graduate.

"He wanted it," his stepfather said. "He just couldn't do it."

After giving up on high school, Levingston went to live with Marlins on Lakewood Drive in Seffner. He liked the quiet of the tidy blue-and-white home shaded by live oak trees, Dennis said, and he liked his grandmother's company.

He drew $460 a month in Social Security checks and worked occasionally at menial jobs to supplement his income. He had a son, now 4 years old, with a Tampa woman.

He also accumulated a small-time rap sheet, with misdemeanor arrests for shoplifting and drunken driving. Three years ago, he was arrested for punching a pregnant woman in the face, an incident Dennis described as a misunderstanding. He said the woman forgave Levingston.

"You had to love this guy," Dennis said. "With the little bit he had, he tried to do as much as he could."

People who knew the victims said there was tension in the Seffner home in the months leading up to the killings. There were reports that Dexter had a fistfight with Barry Cacciamani in the kitchen.

But Levingston's mother and stepfather said their son was not angry or violent, but quiet and loving.

They can't reconcile the boy they knew with the picture of a brutal multiple killer.

"All I want is the real truth. I'm not looking to create my own," Dennis said. "But I'm not content with what I've been told."

- Times staff writer David Karp contributed to this story.

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