‘During much of last week’s jury selection, public defender Alan Fanter focused his questions on alcoholism. He asked jurors for their opinions about Alcoholics Anonymous, if they knew any alcoholics and if they believed alcoholism was curable.’
‘Ron McAndrews, a former prison warden who advocates for an end to capital punishment, was the last witness called Thursday morning by the defense. He said Kalisz, if sentenced to life, would become an “asset” to a prison’s general population because of his experiences with AA.’
BROOKSVILLE –Death was the unanimous recommendation by jurors Thursday.John Kalisz, 57, convicted of slaying two women and seriously wounding two more during a Jan. 14, 2010 shooting spree, sat stone-faced when the advisory sentences were read.Jurors were sent shortly before 3 p.m. to the deliberation room to decide on a punishment recommendation for Kalisz. They reached it in less than an hour. The vote was 12-0.Prosecutor Pete Magrino said because of the “evilness” of the killings, the most appropriate punishment for Kalisz was death by lethal injection.Magrino called the slayings “cold, calculated and premeditated with no legal or moral justification.”Kalisz fatally shot his sister, Kathryn Donovan, 61, and her employee, Deborah Tillotson, 59, during a revenge-thirsty rampage. He also shot and wounded his niece, Manessa Donovan, 21, and another woman, Amy Green, 35.All four victims were at the elder Donovan’s home at 15303 Wilhelm Road near Brooksville. Kalisz, who used to live at the house, came in through a backdoor and shot the women 14 times.
Manessa Donovan was eight weeks pregnant when she was shot. Her fetus died during emergency surgery.
The defense tried for two days to paint Kalisz as a good-natured, selfless man who snapped under the weight of stress, desperation and emotional turmoil.
“He was always there when I needed him – any time with anything,” said a weeping Melissa Williams, a friend of Kalisz’s who testified Thursday morning via video feed.
She credited him with hiring her when she needed to earn money, comforting her when she needed a shoulder to cry on and counseling her as she toiled through a crumbling marriage.
Kalisz’s life since the early 1990s centered on Alcoholics Anonymous. He grew up in a household where abusive drinking was the norm, said defense attorney Devon Sharkey.
It wasn’t long before he was consumed by his own addictions. He spent much of his life homeless and estranged from his family.
He found sobriety and salvation through AA and he was committed to it, his friends and relatives said. He sponsored recovering alcoholics and guided them through the 12-step program.
“AA held him together pretty well for 20 years,” said Peter Bursten, a mental health expert hired by the defense. “He was viewed by others as a good person.”
Bursten said Kalisz’s life in AA boosted his self-esteem. It made him proud he could help people – even turn around their lives. He gleaned “almost a child-like” joy out of it.
“For many years, he didn’t feel what it was like to be a decent human being,” Bursten said, referring to Kalisz’s dark days of living under bridges and spending endless nights in jail for committing petty crimes.
In October 2009, Kalisz pleaded guilty in Hernando County Circuit Court to charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He was accused of exposing himself to Manessa Donovan while she was a juvenile and leaving a CD containing provocative photos under her mattress.
He also was accused of threatening Donovan’s boyfriend at the time with a knife. The confrontation was witnessed by family members.
Following his 2009 conviction, Kalisz was sentenced to probation and was required to register as a sex offender. It kept him away from Colorado, where he had hoped to return so he could resume his roofing career and be with those closest to him.
Two days before the fatal shootings in Brooksville and Cross City, Kalisz’s trailer in Spring Hill went up in flames following a propane explosion. What little he owned was lost.
“Not only did he lose his home in Colorado, he lost his home in Florida,” Bursten said. “He had lost his support system in Florida. At that point, he described to me he had nothing left … He was exceptionally (and) emotionally distraught.”
More than an hour after the Wilhelm Road shootings, Kalisz drove north through several counties along U.S. 19. He pulled into a gas station in Cross City, at which time several Dixie County Sheriff’s deputies surrounded him. Kalisz opened fire.
Capt. Chad Reed was shot and killed. Kalisz also was shot, but survived his injuries.
Last year, Kalisz pleaded guilty to murdering Reed and received a life sentence.
Jurors heard for the first time Wednesday evidence related to Reed’s death.
Magrino reminded jurors during his closing argument Thursday that Reed was gunned down in the line of duty.
He also reminded them the younger Donovan and Green survived their seven gunshot wounds during the Wilhelm Road shooting only after playing dead. Had they not, “we would have had a giant massacre here in Hernando County,” Magrino told jurors.
Both women gave emotional testimony last week. Both of them made a point to stare their attacker in the eyes.
Green’s testimony was especially trying for her. She lives in a neighboring county, but does her best to avoid driving into Hernando because the memories of the Wilhelm Road shootings still affect her, said Magrino.
“I had grave doubts whether she’d be able to testify,” he said.
Kalisz’s formal sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 6.
Relatives of Tillotson and Reed were ushered out of the courtroom moments after the sentencing recommendation was read Thursday. They didn’t speak to the media.
Kalisz’s relatives and friends also declined to comment.
Ron McAndrews, a former prison warden who advocates for an end to capital punishment, was the last witness called Thursday morning by the defense. He said Kalisz, if sentenced to life, would become an “asset” to a prison’s general population because of his experiences with AA.
Hours later, in an effort to poke holes into McAndrews’ testimony, Magrino told jurors during his closing arguments Kalisz was arrested in August 2011 for “bartering to get drugs” while in jail.