LEESBURG, Fla. — David Mariotti had been accused of strangling 84-year-old Bernadine Montgomery to death with a rope in her Leesburg home.
Now the 36-year-old Mariotti will face death himself after a Lake County jury on Wednesday found him guilty in the 2016 murder. Now with a conviction of first-degree murder, as well as burglary of a dwelling with battery, Mariotti faces the possibility of a death sentence.
The jury will return Thursday afternoon for the sentencing phase.
“I wish she would have never been killed,” said the victim’s Palmora Park neighbor Linda Robinson, after bursting in to tears at news of the guilty verdict.
Mariotti tried to hold back tears as he waited for bailiffs to handcuff him in the Lake County courtroom.
Mariotti, of Fruitland Park, and Tracie Jo Naffziger, of Wildwood, were both charged in the murder after Mariotti reportedly confessed that he attacked Montgomery in June 2016 after the widow caught Naffziger pillaging her Palmora Park home and threatened to call police.
High on heroin and afraid to go back to jail, Mariotti admitted he tore a piece of rope from Montgomery’s couch, wrapped it around her neck and strangled her to death, according to a investigators.
Mariotti had gone to Montgomery’s home with Naffziger to help the widow with chores.
The couple reportedly laid her body on the couch and covered it with pillows and blankets for several days as they took her car on joyrides, used her credit cards and sold her belongings to pawn shops – activities that helped investigators tie them to the murder.
The couple reportedly used Montgomery’s vehicle to dump her body in a wooded area along State Road 19 in Putnam County. A number of federal, state and local agencies have joined in the search to recover Montgomery’s remains.
Citing the crime as “especially heinous, atrocious and cruel,” prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty against Mariotti.
Naffziger, 42, has pleaded no contest in her accessory to murder charge and has yet to be sentenced.