Liv­ing un­der the shadow of mur­der

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Tonya Alanez Staff writer

It’s been nearly 20 years since a pack of way­ward friends stabbed Bobby Kent in the neck and gut, beat him with a base­ball bat and lead pipe, slit his throat and left the 20-year-old to die in a We­ston canal.

The given mo­tive: Bobby Kent was a bully.

One of his seven con­victed killers, Alice Wil­lis, now37, re­vis­ited a Broward County court­room Thurs­day on an al­leged pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tion. Her reap­pear­ance car­ries friends, fam­ily and par­tic­i­pants back to the sum­mer of 1993, when the county was rocked by one of the most grue­some spec­ta­cles of wasted sub­ur­ban youth in mem­ory.

Three of Kent’s killers are serv­ing life sen­tences.

Wil­lis and three oth­ers have re­gained freedom.

Out­side prison, they strug­gle to patch up their lives. All are now par­ents. Three live out of state. One says he’s a de­voted sin­gle fa­ther who has made peace with his past. An­other, now a cer­ti­fied op­ti­cian, says that while she’s liv­ing the Amer­i­can dream, she moves un­der a con­stant cloud: the fear of get­ting in trou­ble or ex­posed for who she once was.

“There is away to be­come a nor­mal per­son and live a nor­mal life, there is,” said Lisa Con­nelly, who served 11 years for her role in the mur­der. “You have to fight for it, though.”

Kent’s sis­ter in Cooper City says she doesn’t un­der­stand it.

“It dis­gusts me that they have freedom af­ter killing some­one,” said Laila Kent, 41. “They’re hor­ri­ble peo­ple, and they should be ashamed of what they did. They don’t even de­serve to be alive.”

The bru­tal killing spawned the 2001movie “Bully,” which­was filmed at least in part in Broward County.

Pred­i­cated on Bobby Kent’s dom­i­neer­ing mis­treat­ment of his best friend, Marty Puc­cio, the plot to end Kent’s life was hatched two days be­fore the July 15, 1993, mur­der.

Kent and Puc­cio had been in­sep­a­ra­ble since third grade at Hol­ly­wood El­e­men­tary. They lived five houses apart in Hol­ly­wood Hills.

At trial, Puc­cio tes­ti­fied that he grew to har­bor a daily dread­ful fear of his best friend. Kent would beat him up, he said, for sim­ply run­ning out of gas or get­ting a flat tire, sicced his Dober­man Pin­scher on him, mo­nop­o­lized his time and threat­ened him with a lead pipe when Puc­cio said he no longer wanted to be friends.

Kent’s al­leged abuse of oth­ers, in­clud­ing Wil­lis, an ex-girl­friend, was a com­mon theme through­out the tri­als.

Kent fre­quently hit Wil­lis and en­gaged in “im­pul­sive and bizarre” sex­ual be­hav­ior, forc­ing her to watch ho­mo­sex­ual pornog­ra­phy that he and Puc­cio had pro­duced— slap­ping her up­side the head if she looked away, ridi­cul­ing her if she watched too in­tently, Wil­lis’ de­fense at­tor­ney, Mike Dutko, said at trial.

Known at the time as “Ali,” Wil­lis helped ig­nite the mur­der plot, un­truth­fully claim­ing that Kent had raped her. She helped lure him to the death scene.

Then19 and a mother, Wil­lis was con­victed of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der. Her 40-year sen­tence was re­duced to 17 on ap­peal, to be fol­lowed by 40 years’ pro­ba­tion. She earned a high school diploma in prison.

Freed in Septem­ber 2001, Wil­lis is now a stayat-home mother liv­ing in Melbourne, Fla.

“She is liv­ing a very low-key ex­is­tence with her hus­band and chil­dren,” Dutko, the at­tor­ney, said Thurs­day. “She’s mak­ing ev­ery ef­fort to be a solid, pro­duc­tive mem­ber of so­ci­ety.”

She­was ar­rest­edMon­day for not telling her pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer that she had re­ceived sev­eral traf­fic ci­ta­tions and­was ac­cused of— but not ar­rested for— shoplift­ing in 2009. On Thurs­day, a judge dis­missed the pro­ba­tion re­lated war­rant.

“She’s a suc­cess story,” Dutko said. “She’s easy to su­per­vise. She’s cour­te­ous. What­ever lessons her pun­ish­ment was sup­posed to in­still have clearly been learned.”

De­fen­dant Derek Dzvirko, now39 and liv­ing in Mis­souri, says he doesn’t

“There is a way to be­come a nor­mal per­son and live a nor­mal life.”

Lisa Con­nelly, who served 11 years in Bobby Kent’s killing “It dis­gusts me that they have freedom af­ter killing some­one.”

Laila Kent, Bobby Kent’s sis­ter

look back. Hewas three months away from his 20th birth­day when he guided de­tec­tives to Kent’s mu­ti­lated body off South Post Road in We­ston.

He pleaded guilty, re­ceived an 11-year prison sen­tence and­was re­leased in Oc­to­ber1999.

“Hon­estly and truth­fully, I’ve made peace with this a long time ago,” Dzvirko said Wed­nes­day. “I don’t have bad dreams about it, I don’t think about it, I don’t dwell on it, I don’t pon­der it. I’ve moved on.”

Dzvirko said he gave up truck driv­ing when he took cus­tody of his daugh­ter, and for the last four years she has been his fo­cus.

“I’m try­ing to pro­vide the best life pos­si­ble for my kid,” he said.

At trial, pros­e­cu­tors ac­cused Puc­cio’s girl­friend, Lisa Con­nelly, of or­ches­trat­ing the mur­der and per­suad­ing Puc­cio to turn on his tor­men­tor. She gave birth to Puc­cio’s child in jail.

Con­nelly had her 40-year prison sen­tence re­duced to 22 years and was re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 2004.

Now38, Con­nelly lives in Penn­syl­va­nia, where she says she en­joys a hard­fought life as a cer­ti­fied op­ti­cian with a clean­ing busi­ness on the side. She’s mar­ried and has a son, 6.

Her daugh­ter with Puc­cio, now19, has grad­u­ated from high school, lives on her own in an­other state and is pre­par­ing for col­lege, Con­nelly said.

“Ev­ery door that I ever knocked on was shut in my face be­cause ofmy past,” Con­nelly said. “I had towork from the bot­tom, but I’ve even­tu­ally made it to where I can make a de­cent liv­ing and sup­port my kids with­out hav­ing to live on min­i­mumwage, andwe can live a nor­mal life here.”

But there is al­ways the cloud.

“I don’t live my life to the fullest, be­cause I’m scared of ev­ery­thing,” she said. “I’m ex­tremely scared to get in trou­ble.”

Con­nelly said jobs have been hard to come by. She has omit­ted her crim­i­nal past from ap­pli­ca­tions only to get found out, and fired on the spot.

Prose­cu­tor Tim Don­nelly said he main­tains con­tact with Kent’s par­ents with yearly Christ­mas card ex­changes.

He also some­times hears from the de­fen­dants and their fam­i­lies. The last word of Heather Swallers, 18 at the time of the slay­ing, was a card fromher mother a few years ago with pic­tures of Swallers’ young chil­dren, “lit­tle tow­heads,” he said.

Swallers got seven years for her guilty plea and­was freed in Fe­bru­ary 1998. She could not be reached for comment. She turned 38 on May 4 and nowl­ives in Ge­or­gia.

Puc­cio, who gut­ted his best friend with a div­ing knife, is now40. His death sen­tence was re­duced to life. He is im­pris­oned in Ar­ca­dia and has re­port­edly gone into jail min­istry.

Don­ald Semenec, who turned 18 on the day of the killing and­was the first to stab Kent, is now37. He is serv­ing a life term in Cler­mont. While in prison, he has re­ceived 20 in­frac­tions for of­fenses, in­clud­ing drug and al­co­hol use, dis­or­derly con­duct, riot par­tic­i­pa­tion, fight­ing and pos­sess­ing a weapon.

Derek Kauf­man, who de­liv­ered the fi­nal blow with a base­ball bat, turned 40Wed­nes­day. He is serv­ing his life term in a state prison south­east of Tampa. Over the years, he has amassed18 prison in­frac­tions in­clud­ing drug use, pos­ses­sion of con­tra­band, ly­ing and dis­obey­ing or­ders.

Don­nelly, the prose­cu­tor, said the mis­di­rected de­fen­dants at the time of the­mur­der seem­ingly “didn’t have any hope.”

“I don’t knowhow prison af­fected them,” he said. “It’s sad that three of the boys are go­ing to die in prison. But then you go, it’s 20 years and Bobby Kent is dead ev­ery day.”

MI­AMI HER­ALD FILE PHOTO

Bobby Kent was beaten, slashed and left to die in aWe­ston canal on July 15, 1993.

LOU TOMAN/STAFF FILE

Lisa Con­nelly, left, is com­forted by her at­tor­ney, Kayo Mor­gan, in court in 1995. Now 38, Con­nelly lives in Penn­syl­va­nia, where she is a cer­ti­fied op­ti­cian.

LOU TOMAN/STAFF FILE

Dur­ing a 1993 ar­raign­ment, seven peo­ple ap­pearedin court. In front row: Don­ald Semenec, left, and Derek Dzvirko. In back row, from left, Marty Puc­cio, Derek Kauf­man, Heather Swallers, Lisa Con­nelly and AliceWil­lis.

MI­AMI HER­ALD FILE

CAR­LINE JEAN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

AliceWil­lis re­vis­its a Broward court­room on Tues­day on an al­leged pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tion. On Thurs­day, a judge dis­missed the pro­ba­tion-re­lated war­rant.

MI­AMI HER­ALD FILE

Farah and Fred Kent, at right, par­ents of mur­der vic­tim Bobby Kent, above, show their re­lief with the life sen­tence given to Don­ald Semenec in 1995.

JUDY SLOAN RE­ICH/STAFF FILE

Marty Puc­cio, above, gets a kiss from his mother, Veron­ica, dur­ing court­room pro­ceed­ings in 1994.

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