SAN DIEGO -- A Mira Mesa man who said his wife was critically injured in a fall down a flight of stairs was convicted Monday of first-degree murder in her beating and strangulation death.
David Patrick Ditto faces 25 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 3 by Judge Kenneth So.
"The defendant assaulted his wife, repeatedly kicking her and slamming her head against the floor, eventually strangling her to death,'' said District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. "Today's conviction holds the defendant accountable and brings a measure of justice to the victim's family.''
Jurors began deliberating late Wednesday afternoon and reached a verdict Friday morning after a four-week trial. The judge delayed reading of the jury's decision until today because all parties could not make it to the downtown courthouse on Friday.
Members of Ditto's family gasped, shook and cried as a clerk read the verdict.
"Sons of bitches,'' Ditto's stepfather yelled from the back row of the crowded courtroom.
Deputy District Attorney Claudine Ruiz said Karina Ditto's family -- who live in Mexico -- had an emotional response when notified of the verdict.
"Karina's family had put their trust in our judicial system and are relieved at the result,'' the prosecutor said. "Their thoughts and their prayers are with Karina's two children.''
Ditto, 44, testified that his 38-year-old wife went upstairs to use the bathroom the night of March 11 when he heard a cat screech and a loud "thud, thud, thud, thud, thud'' coming down the stairs. He said he got off the couch and found his wife lying at the foot of the staircase.
Paramedics and firefighters who responded to the 911 call shortly before 1 a.m. expected to see a victim injured from a fall, but what they found was very different, Ruiz said.
Paramedics noted that there were injuries to the victim's right temple and a cut to the back of her head, but there was no active bleeding even though the victim was covered in blood, the prosecutor said.
The defendant also had scratches on his face from his wife fighting back, she alleged.
A firefighter was concerned about the circumstances under which the woman was found and called police.
Karina Ditto had bruising under her scalp, jaw, lip, tongue, chin, shoulder, arms, hands, legs and shins, and even had a fractured rib, Ruiz said, adding that a bruise on the leg was consistent with a footprint.
The victim suffered a brain injury from lack of oxygen and was taken off life support two days later.
Nurses looking after Karina Ditto hours before she died on March 14 noticed extensive bruising on her body, according to Ruiz.
"Really, the unsung heroes in this case were the firefighters, the paramedics, the nurses and the doctors who recognized that Karina Ditto was the victim of a brutal crime, and had the integrity to stand up for her,'' Ruiz said today.
Ditto testified that he and his wife of 16 years had talked about a separation, but had agreed to stay together.
Ruiz said the last two years of the couple's marriage had been like a roller-coaster ride, and Karina Ditto was "ready to get off.''
By August 2010, she had decided she was going to leave her husband, and in November, the defendant took out a life insurance policy on his wife in case of accidental death, Ruiz said, telling the jury that the bruises on the victim's body showed "this was no accident, this was murder.''
But defense attorney Keith Rutman said the couple -- despite earlier problems -- had patched things up, were living a happy life and loved each other.