WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - James Scandiritio II testified during his trial how he taped his father's body to a hand truck, used a saw to dismember the corpse and then disposed of the remains, but he said he didn't kill his father.
A jury agreed with him Thursday, acquitting the Fort Lauderdale man of first-degree murder in the March 2018 death of his father, James Scandirito Sr., a retired Michigan judge.
Instead, Scandirito II was found guilty of abuse of a dead human body.
The younger Scandirito testifed Tuesday that his father died of natural causes, but because he had been drinking and doing drugs, he panicked and used a saw to dismember his father's body before burying the remains at an old golf course in Boca Raton.
Prosecutors argued that the defendant killed the elder Scandirito because he was nearly broke and stood to inherit his father's money.
Scandirito II said he was paranoid after drinking heavily, ingesting marijuana eadibles and snorting cocaine at his father's house.
The younger Scandirito said he had spent the day with his 74-year-old father and went outside to smoke a cigarette. But when he returned to the living room, his father, who had heart problems, was dead on the ground.
"I should have called 911, but I didn't want to face them in my current state," Scandirito II told the jury.
Instead, Scandirito II testified, he used a hand saw he found in the garage to cut up his father's body.
"As terrible as it sounds, I was afraid," he testified.
Scandirito II went into great detail about how he chopped up his father, using a hand truck he had purchased from Home Depot to move the body into the garage.
"It seemed like I was doing it all night," he testified, adding that he took frequent smoke breaks.
Next, Scandirito II said, he put the pieces into garbage bags in three suitcases, put them in the back of his father's SUV and drove to a defunct golf course. He said he opened the suitcases and dumped some of the remains into a construction dumpster, but he decided to bury the larger parts.
The elder Scandirito's torso and upper legs were buried in two pieces at the old Ocean Breeze Golf Club, but the head was never found.
During her closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Emily Walters painted Scandirito II as a man who was deep in debt, struggling to pay his bills and in desperate need of money. She said he couldn't afford the payments on his Mercedes-Benz and couldn't afford to pay his Comcast bill.
Contrary to his testimony, the younger Scandirito's relationship with his father was becoming strained, Walters said, mostly because of money.
Even though Scandirito Sr. had paid off his son's $27,000 debt in January 2017, Scandirito II was increasingly frustrated by his father, Walters said.
"Because his dad was tough with money," she said. "Because the defendant had proven over time that he is not good with his money and, frankly, there's a reasonable inference that his dad is sick of bailing him out."
By February 2018, Scandirito II was nearly broke, Walters said.
"That's when he starts being late on his Comcast," she said. "That's when he starts being late on his rent. That's when, you heard, he gets voicemails from debt collectors."
Walters said Scandirito II was in such financial struggles that he had been supplementing his income by driving for Lyft.
Complicating matters, Walters said, was the younger Scandirito's blossoming relationship with a woman from Brazil he met on an online dating site. Walters said Scandirito II decided he was basically going to be a "sugar daddy" for her.
"But he doesn't have the funds to back it up," she said. "There's only person standing in his way to be able to have the funds to back it up."
Scandirito II insisted he wasn't concerned about money and was only driving for Lyft because he thought he needed a legitimate income to disguise the money he was making selling marijuana.
"I wasn't concerned at all about finances," he said.
Walters and co-prosecutor John Parnofiello argued during trial that he wasn't concerned about finances because he was the sole beneficiary of his father's estate.
"We know that the next morning he starts executing his plan, almost flawlessly, but before he does, what does he do?" Walters told the jury. "He takes his dad's wallet. He transfers over $1,400 into his own account, not because it's clean money, but because he wants it and he needs it."
On the morning of March 31, Scandirito II and his father's friend, Gary Goodin, were supposed to watch a basketball game with Scandirito at his Boca Raton home, but he never arrived. Scandirito II told police he sent a text message and tried to call his father's phone, but he got no reply or answer.
Goodin also called Scandirito's phone, which went straight to voicemail. The next morning, Goodin called nearby hospitals looking for his friend and eventually contacted police.
During an April 3 interview with detectives, Scandirito II said he played golf with father on the morning of March 28, ran some errands and returned to his father's home to drink tequila and celebrate what would have been his late mother's birthday. Scandirito II said he and his father drank throughout the night, so he decided to sleep over.
The next morning, Scandirito II said, his father told him that he was going to Miami with a friend to watch a tennis match, so he decided to go back to Fort Lauderdale. Scandirito II told police that his father asked him to clean out the garage, so they decided to swap vehicles. When Scandirito II got to the home, his father wasn't there.
Scandirito II told police that he spent another night there, and when his father returned mid-morning, Scandirito II didn't ask where he had been. They exchanged vehicles and he went back to Fort Lauderdale.
It wasn't until about midnight March 31 that Scandirito II said he received a call from his father's cellphone, but he didn't answer.
During an April 3 search of the home, detectives found the presence of blood drops in the garage, including on the hand truck that had been purchased from Home Depot.
Meanwhile, police were conducting surveillance on Scandirito II, who made several trips back and forth between Broward and Palm Beach counties.
"His goal, at that point, was to ensure that nobody would ever find his dad's body," Walters said. "That's the goal. What he underestimated was that the Boca Raton Police Department has an undercover surveillance operation team. That one he didn't expect."
Within a few hours, human remains were found on the golf course, buried about 4 feet deep.
Scandirito II was arrested April 9 in Alachua County after he stole a license plate and fled north in an attempt to avoid being caught.
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