Attorney's medical issue halts trial of man accused of killing father in Boca Raton

James Scandirito II accused of dismembering retired Michigan judge's body

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor

James Scandirito Jr. sits in court as a mistrial is declared, Sept. 21, 2018, at the Palm Beach County courthouse in West Palm Beach, Florida.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A mistrial has been declared in the case of a Fort Lauderdale man accused of killing his father, dismembering the body and dumping the remains at an old golf course in Boca Raton.

Palm Beach County Judge Laura Johnson granted the defense's motion for a mistrial Friday after an undisclosed medical issue involving assistant public defender Elizabeth Ramsey prompted her absence. Public defender Carey Haughwout said she didn't think Ramsey would be able to continue with the trial of James Scandirito II.

Scandirito II, 49, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his father, a retired judge from Michigan.

Court documents revealed that the elder Scandirito was dismembered, his torso and upper legs buried in two pieces at the old Ocean Breeze Golf Club.

Before a mistrial was declared, Ramsey told jurors that her client's father had heart problems and died a natural death, but that Scandirito chopped up the body and tried to dispose of the remains because he was fearful that police would find marijuana at the home.

A Boca Raton police detective holds a tape measure marking the length of a shallow grave in which the remains of James Scandirito were found on the grounds of the old Ocean Breeze Golf Club.

Dr. Reinhard Motte, an associate medical examiner in Palm Beach County, concluded that the retired 74-year-old's manner of death was a "homicide by unspecified means." That's because the former judge's head has not been found.

In a recent court filing, Ramsey asked the judge to block the prosecution from showing "irrelevant gruesome photographs" to the jury, arguing that the photos are prejudicial and could impact her client's right to a fair trial.

Ramsey wrote that Motte found "no evidence of pre-mortem injury" to Scandirito's remains.

"The dismemberment of the decedent occurred post-mortem," Ramsey wrote. "Dr. Motte further opined that decedent suffered from critical cardiac disease and that if decedent were found intact, he would have listed cause of death as heart failure."

Ramsey's motion includes a statement from Motte in which he explains how he came to rule the death as a homicide.

"It's the circumstances that lead you to think homicide in those kind of cases," Motte said. "Somebody who dies a natural death isn't taken and chopped into pieces, you know, and take the body parts and hide them to conceal them. They're doing that for a purpose. And I can use that kind of information to draw my conclusions."

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, Boca Raton police said.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Scandirito's Ford Escape was discovered by police on Easter Sunday at Knowles Park in Delray Beach, but his cellphone, wallet and keys were nowhere to be found.

Instead, police found a three-day-old receipt from Home Depot on the passenger floorboard. It showed a cash transaction, dated March 29 at 6:06 a.m., in which a hand truck and gas can had been purchased.

When asked by police why his father was at Home Depot so early in the morning, Scandirito II said he bought the items to use with a pressure washer that he was taking back to his apartment in Fort Lauderdale.

During the search for Scandirito, his son told police that he didn't see any recent credit card or bank activity on his father's accounts. However, financial records showed that there were several purchases made on Scandirito's debit card between March 28 and March 30.

James Scandirito, 74, was a retired Michigan judge living in Boca Raton.

"Several items were purchased at Publix, including duct tape, garbage bags and cleaning supplies," Detective Robert Volguardson wrote in the probable cause affidavit.

It was Scandirito II seen on surveillance video making the purchases, Volguardson wrote.

A review of the surveillance video from Knowles Park also showed Scandirito's SUV entering the park about 8:30 a.m. March 31. A review of Scandirito's cellphone records showed it was last used 13 minutes later.

Financial records showed Scandirito II making several attempts to withdraw $9,500 from a beneficiary account in his father's name, and he also withdrew $1,400 in cash -- almost the entire amount -- from his personal checking account.

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, the affidavit said.

This hand truck purchased by James Scandirito II purchased was found in the garage of his father's home. There were blood drops in the garage and on the hand truck.

Meanwhile, police were conducting surveillance on Scandirito II, who made several trips back and forth between Broward and Palm Beach counties.

Among the places Scandirito II went was to the old Ocean Breeze Golf Course, the affidavit said. He arrived carrying a small bag and left with a suitcase and wearing a different set of clothes.

Scandirito II was then seen carrying the suitcase and disposing of it in a dumpster, the affidavit said.
The suitcase, along with a smaller suitcase inside of it, was recovered by police and contained "bloody clothing, maggots and the smell of decomposing remains."

James Scandirito II was seen tossing a suitcase into this dumpster. The suitcase, along with a smaller suitcase inside of it, was recovered by police and contained "bloody clothing, maggots and the smell of decomposing remains."

Within a few hours, human remains were found on the golf course, buried about 4 feet deep. Motte later identified the remains as those of Scandirito.

A police dive team searched a pond near where the remains were discovered and found a shovel in the water about 20 yards from shore, the affidavit said.

Scandirito's cellphone records showed that between March 28 and March 31, his phone was near the golf course, his son's Fort Lauderdale apartment and his Boca Raton home. Scandirito II's cellphone records showed that it was at Knowles Park one day before Delray Beach police found his father's SUV there, the affidavit said.

This shovel was found in a pond near where the remains of James Scandirito were discovered at the old Ocean Breeze Golf Club.

Investigators concluded that Scandirito was killed on or about March 28.

Volguardson wrote that Scandirito II had not tried to contact police or family members since the April 3 search of his father's home.

Scandirito's financial adviser told detectives that he had a portfolio worth about $800,000. Scandirito's son was the sole beneficiary on many of the accounts.

Johnson has set an Oct. 4 hearing to determine when the trial will be reset.

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