Back to scottdyleski.org
Pam Vitales Murder & Alleged Killer Scott Dyleski Are Unique
By Seamus McGraw
Contra Costa County, CA.
In the hours after accused teen killer Scott Dyleski
was arrested and charged with murder in the bludgeoning death of Pamela
Vitale, a chillingly familiar picture of the young man began to emerge
in the press.
Reports published in the San Jose Mercury News and
the San Francisco Chronicle depicted the 16-year-old as a morbid loner
drawn to the self-indulgently macabre masquerade of the Goth culture.
They painted a portrait of a once-cheerful youth who
spiraled into a deep depression and isolation after the death of his
sister three years ago in an automobile accident. In a widely
circulated recent photograph, Dyleski peers with dark eyes —
outlined apparently in Marilyn Manson mascara — through a
nest of long, unkempt hair. He’s dressed in black and it has been
reported that among his most prized possessions was the kind of black
trenchcoat worn by teen killers like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at
Columbine High School, and more recently, by Jeffrey Weiss, who gunned
down 10 people at Red Lake High School in Minnesota.
In short, the image of Dyleski that has appeared in
the media is an almost iconographic representation of the mythical
predatory teen and as such, it taps into the popular psyche.
But juvenile justice experts warn that the popular
image of the black-clad teen killer may have little to do with the
reality of Dyleski’s case and even less to do with the reality of
juvenile crime in America.
The investigation of Dyleski’s alleged role in the
slaying of the 52-year-old wife of defense attorney and television
pundit Daniel Horowitz is continuing and the details of the slaying
remain a closely guarded secret among law enforcement officials in
Contra Costa County. But this much is clear: “This is not a typical
juvenile crime,” said Robert Schwartz, the executive director of the
Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center.
In fact, if Dyleski, who is accused of beating
Vitale to death, striking her 39 times with a piece of crown molding at
her home on a remote 12-acre estate in Lafayette, California, is found
guilty, his crime will be highly unique among juvenile offenders,
Franklin Zimring, a professor of law at the
University of California at Berkeley and a nationally recognized expert
on juvenile crime, agreed.
“I don’t know what happened in the Lafayette case
and it is atypical enough…that I’m waiting for the other shoes to
drop,” Zimring told Crime Library. The way Zimring sees it, the image
that has emerged of Dyleski seems to draw heavily on a kind of mythic
representation of the youthful offender. But it is an image that has
more to do with widespread public fear than with the reality of
While killers like Klebold and Harris and Weiss may
have captured the public’s imagination, “I can tell you this, the
percentage of juvenile killers in black trenchcoats with Marilyn Manson
music is quite low,” Zimring said.
In fact, despite decade-old dire warning of an
emerging threat from teen predators, dubbed “super-predators” by the
media, the number of homicides committed by juveniles has declined
dramatically over the past decade. A report by the federal Bureau of
Justice Statistics bears that out. According to the report, the
juvenile homicide rate fell between 1994 and 1998 to its lowest rate in
20 years and has remained at that near-historic low ever since.
Still, the image of the black trenchcoated killer
continues to haunt the media. And perhaps one of the key reasons for
that, said several experts, is that the media, and by extension the
public, is conditioned to seek out that image, and the cases that
receive the most attention are the ones that fit the profile.
As Elizabeth Cauffman, a professor of psychology at
the University of California-Irvine and an expert in juvenile
delinquency issues, put it, “in the grand scheme of things, most
juvenile crime does not represent…this kind of pattern.” But they get
the majority of the media attention, she said. What’s more, she said,
“whether you take Columbine or Red Lake or this particular
incident…when you put somebody’s life under a microscope, of course
you’re going to find these things…and I’m sure if you did this to
anybody’s life, you could find something to make a story and I think
that’s what happens in a lot of these cases.”
What makes the allegations against Dyleski even more
unique is the nature of the victim. According to federal statistics,
when a juvenile does commit a homicide, it involves a firearm and in
most cases, the victim is another teen. As Zimring put it, “in most
juvenile crime, when you take a look at the victims, they match the
offenders. It’s a male, and if the shooter is 16 the shootee is 17.”
The way Zimring sees it, if Dyleski is found guilty
of murdering Vitale, he would become a statistical aberration within a
statistical anomaly. But before he can even begin to decide whether
that’s the case, Zimring said, he’s going to have to know a lot more
about the circumstances of the killing than authorities have let slip
“The public data that we’re dealing with here tells
such a puzzling story that I’m waiting until we hear more,” Zimring
said. “There’s more story here than I think either you or I have, so
I’m just gonna stay tuned.”