Year in review: Convicted murderer sentenced to death
TBO.comBROOKSVILLE - The John Kalisz murder trial came in 10th on Hernando Today's list of top stories for 2012.
Published: December 26, 2012
Published: December 26, 2012
The case riveted the attention of Hernando County as a shackled and haggard Kalisz shuffled into a hushed Hernando County courtroom on the afternoon of March 6.
For a moment he made eye contact with prosecutor Pete Magrino, who convinced jurors six weeks earlier to recommend a death sentence to the three-time convicted murderer.
He limped toward his seat. He sat down, looked over his shoulder and gave one quick glance at the packed courtroom.
Kalisz was devoid of emotion as he awaited his fate. His long brown hair was gone. His gray business suit was replaced with an orange jumpsuit.
He didn't flinch as Hernando County Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr. sentenced him to death.
Kalisz, 57, fatally shot his sister, Kathryn Donovan, 61, and her employee, Deborah Tillotson, 59, the afternoon of Jan. 10, 2010. 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 back door and opened fire. The four women were shot a combined 14 times.
For Merritt, a 14-year veteran of the bench, it was the first time he had sentenced a defendant to death.
He called Kalisz's crimes "appalling" and said the shootings were carried out "methodically" and in a "cold, calculated manner."
He said the jurors' recommendation of death was "the only logical decision" they could have made after weighing the evidence.
"The scales of life and death tilt unquestionably to the side of death," Merritt said. "You not only forfeited your right to live among us, but you've forfeited your right to live at all."
Kalisz was sentenced to death for killing Kathryn Donovan and Tillotson. For shooting and attempting to murder Manessa Donovan and Green, he was sentenced to consecutive life sentences.
For his burglary conviction, he was sentenced to a third life sentence.
Merritt's last statement to Kalisz didn't come easy. He paused in the middle to keep his composure.
"May God have mercy on your soul," Merritt told him.
After the Brooksville shootings, Kalisz eluded capture and drove north almost 100 miles along U.S. 19.
He pulled into a gas station in Cross City and was swarmed by Dixie County Sheriff's deputies. Kalisz, who had multiple magazines full of 9mm rounds, fired his weapon at them.
Capt. Chad Reed was killed during the gunfight. Kalisz also was shot, but survived his injuries.
In February 2011, Kalisz pleaded guilty to murdering Reed and received a life sentence.
Reed's widow preferred not to take part in a prolonged trial in pursuit of a death sentence for her husband's murder.
Prosecutor Pete Magrino believed Kalisz's crimes in Hernando warranted the death penalty. Jurors unanimously agreed. All 12 recommended death for Kalisz.
The trial lasted nearly two weeks.