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Dalia Dippolito seeks fourth trial in latest appeal

Attorneys argue court interfered with her right to due process during trial

Dalia Dippolito listens to attorneys and Palm Beach County Judge Glenn Kelley discuss jury instructions in her third murder-for-hire trial in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Dalia Dippolito listens to attorneys and Palm Beach County Judge Glenn Kelley discuss jury instructions in her third murder-for-hire trial in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Lannis Waters/Palm Beach Post via AP)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Attorneys for a Boynton Beach woman who arranged to have an undercover police officer posing as a hitman to kill her husband have filed an appeal seeking a fourth trial.

Dalia Dippolito, 35, was found guilty last year of solicitation to commit first-degree murder. It was her third murder-for-hire trial.

Her appeal, filed Wednesday by defense attorneys Andrew Greenlee and Greg Rosenfeld, seeks to overturn Dippolito's conviction and 16-year prison sentence.

Among the key points raised in the 58-page appeal are that the trial court erred when it allowed the state to introduce the allegation that Dippolito tried to poison her husband, that Dippolito was the victim of entrapment by police, that the trial court violated Dippolito's right to due process by squashing the defense's entrapment theory to the jury, and that the trial court erred by allowing the jury to consider unsubstantiated and inadmissible prior bad acts.

Did Dippolito try to poison her husband?

Dippolito's attorneys argue that the court previously ruled after her first trial that the presentation of the poisoning allegation was "too prejudicial" to the jury.

"The most problematic aspect of the poisoning allegation, however, was the state's inexcusable lulling of Ms. Dippolito into believing that the poisoning allegation would not be admissible at trial," Greenlee and Rosenfeld wrote in the appeal. "The prosecutors, in fact, stipulated to its exclusion."

Dalia Dippolito sits in court during her sentencing Friday, July 21, 2017, in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Dalia Dippolito sits in court during her sentencing Friday, July 21, 2017, in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Greenlee and Rosenfeld said if Dippolito had known the allegation would be admissible, "she could have taken steps, such as hiring an expert, to mitigate the prejudicial effect."

"Furthermore, it appears from the record that two forensic examiners from law enforcement searched Ms. Dippolito's computer and, contrary to the insinuation of the prosecutor, they never found any evidence that she searched the internet for ways of poisoning her husband," Greenlee and Rosenfeld wrote.

Did conduct of Boynton Beach Police Department constitute entrapment?

Dippolito's attorneys argue that the "outrageous acts" committed by the Boynton Beach Police Department rise to the level of "objective entrapment."

Dippolito was seen on undercover surveillance video telling an undercover Boynton Beach police detective that she was "5,000 percent sure" she wanted her then-husband dead in 2009.

The meeting was arranged with the help of Mohamed Shihadeh, a former lover who reluctantly became a confidential informant for police.

Greenlee and Rosenfeld argue that the failure of police "to properly supervise a confidential informant" is also grounds for dismissal. They claim the sergeant in charge of the investigation not only failed to monitor all of Shihadeh's conversations with Dippolito, but that police also never recorded the meeting between Dippolito, Shihadeh and the undercover detective.

Mohamed Shihadeh testifies in Dalia Dippolito's 2016 murder-for-hire trial in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Mohamed Shihadeh testifies in Dalia Dippolito's 2016 murder-for-hire trial in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Dippolito's attorneys also wrote that the state "threatened Shihadeh with prosecution to compel his cooperation with the investigation."

In August 2009, the Boynton Beach Police Department staged a phony crime scene on the day that Dippolito's husband was supposed to be killed, recording her reaction. A camera crew for the television show "Cops" was also present.

Greenlee and Rosenfeld wrote that Boynton Beach police spokeswoman Stephanie Slater solicited "Cops" producers because she wanted publicity and immediately posted the video on YouTube.

Dippolito's attorneys argued during her last trial that police mishandled the investigation, accusing them of playing to the "Cops" cameras in hopes of becoming famous. It was a different defense from Dippolito's first trial, when her former attorney claimed that her actions were all in an effort to get on reality television.

Should jury have been allowed to hear entrapment theory?

"The lower court denied Ms. Dippolito the opportunity to argue her objective entrapment defense to the jury, to allow the jury to find whether the facts underlying her defense were proven at trial and to present her expert witness, Dr. Lenore Walker, who could have established … that the prosecution played on her known vulnerabilities" since police knew she was the victim of domestic violence, Greenlee and Rosenfeld wrote.

Dalia Dippolito speaks to defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld during her sentencing hearing Friday, July 21, 2017, at the Palm Beach County courthouse in West Palm Beach.
Dalia Dippolito speaks to defense attorney Greg Rosenfeld during her sentencing hearing Friday, July 21, 2017, at the Palm Beach County courthouse in West Palm Beach.

They claim the decision violated Dippolito's state and federal right of due process to present her defense to the jury.

"The violation of due process is reversible error," her attorneys wrote.

Should jury have heard about Dippolito's previous bad acts?

"The trial court also committed reversible error when it allowed the jury to consider a host of unsubstantiated and inadmissible prior bad acts," Greenlee and Rosenfeld wrote. "Those prior bad acts included the incredibly damaging allegation that Ms. Dippolito had previously attempted to hire another hitman to kill her husband, an allegation that rested entirely on inadmissible hearsay."

They cited Dippolito's other alleged transgressions, including stealing money from her husband, planting drugs in his car and stealing a gun from Shihadeh.

"These collateral crimes were a dominant feature of the trial, and the emphasis on these crimes raised the grave risk that jury would convict Ms. Dippolito because of a perceived propensity toward criminality," her attorneys wrote.

Prosecutors argued that the crimes were "inextricably intertwined," but Dippolito's attorneys argue that, if they were, the state "would not have chosen to extricate them during the second trial."

Dippolito's attorneys also wrote that the state "relied heavily" on text messages between Dippolito and a lover, constituting inadmissible hearsay. 

The Fourth District Court of Appeal will decide whether the issues raised in the appeal are enough to merit another trial.

Dalia Dippolito, pictured here in her Florida Department of Corrections inmate photograph, was convicted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Dalia Dippolito, pictured here in her Florida Department of Corrections inmate photograph, was convicted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Dippolito's 2011 conviction and 20-year sentence were thrown out on appeal. Her 2016 trial ended with a 3-3 hung jury.

Dippolito, who gave birth to a son while on house arrest between her second and third trials, is currently serving her prison sentence at the Lowell Correctional Institution Annex in Marion County.