Troubles were mounting in 1989 for Konstantinos “Kosta” Fotopoulos, but the Florida pool hall owner had what he thought was a foolproof plan to wrap up all of his difficulties into a single package that would make everything go away.
First of all, there was the unwelcome attention the 28-year-old Greek immigrant was receiving from the United States Secret Service. In 1987, Kosta bought $100,000 in counterfeit $100 bills and had been passing them around the southeast United States. The feds had identified him as a “person of interest” and he felt it was just a matter of time before they accumulated enough evidence for an indictment followed by a long prison term and a crippling fine.
Complicating that situation was Kevin Ramsey, a 19-year-old ex-employee in Kosta’s pool hall, Top Shots, who was dropping hints about blackmailing Kosta with his knowledge of Kosta’s counterfeiting operation.
Then there was Fotopoulos’s failing marriage with his wife, Lisa.
Lisa had inherited a small fortune when her father died and was successfully building the family’s boardwalk business, Joyland Amusement Center, in Daytona Beach. Kosta was about $20,000 in debt in October 1989 and reliant on his wife’s largess to avoid bankruptcy and the loss of his business.
When Lisa discovered that Kosta was having an affair with 20-year-old Deidre Hunt, a bartender at Top Shots, she demanded that he end the affair and fire Deidre.
Rather than admit his faithlessness and accede to his wife’s ultimatum, Kosta denied that he was having the affair. That denial made little sense to Lisa, who had nearly wrecked her car chasing Kosta as he left Deidre’s apartment — a love den he was renting.
Lisa subsequently announced that she was going to seek a divorce. She reminded him on a daily basis that he would receive nothing when the marriage ended. Her threats and declarations struck at the heart of Kosta’s oversized ego and forced him to take action.
Beyond the fact that it represented a violation of his marital vows, Kosta’s relationship with Deidre Hunt was bad for a number of reasons. Kosta was abusive both mentally and physically.
For Deidre, however, this was par for the course. Back home in New Hampshire, Deidre’s mother had been diagnosed with several mental illnesses, including dissociative identity (multiple personality disorder) with 11 distinct personalities. A high school dropout, Deidre had abused sexually by a relative, so there was nothing in New Hampshire for her. She left home and headed to Daytona Beach to start a new life after serving a six-month sentence for participating in an armed robbery.
However, like many under-educated and disadvantaged teens, Deidre found that using the geographic cure to start anew was not as easy as it sounded. When she wandered into the Top Shots looking for work, she was homeless. Her history and her desperation made her an easy target for a manipulator like Kosta. And Kosta was merciless.
In the course of the police investigation of him, authorities came to believe that Kosta inflicted “ritualistic torture on Hunt by cutting her with razors, sucking her blood, throwing knifes, burning her with cigarettes and an iron, poking her with needles, and threatening her with a gun.”
During a later court hearing after Fotopoulos’s plan fell apart, the prosecutor in his case summed up how Kosta treated his mistress.
There was “a pattern of intimidation and terror inflicted upon the witness to terrorize her and break down her will ultimately and obtain complete control of her,” the State of Florida alleged. “They had an impact on [Hunt], in effect, paralyzed her, stopped her from feeling she could go to anyone or talk to anyone or escape from the circumstances, and that she had a growing paranoia that [Fotopoulos] had utter control of her life and she could not escape.”
The result of Kosta’s treatment of Deidre was that when the time came to start killing, he had a willing accomplice.
Kill or be Killed
On October 20, 1989, Kosta, Deidre and Kevin Ramsey drove out to a remote shooting range where Ramsey believed he was going to be inducted into an ultra-secret “Hunter-Killer Club.” Kosta had managed to convince Ramsey that he was a contract assassin who worked for the mob and for the CIA and that by joining the Hunter-Killer Club, Ramsey would also become a hitman. Kosta claimed to have killed eight people.
Deidre later told police that she had gone with Kosta that night intending to be initiated into the club, as well. While Kosta and Deidre took a .22 rifle and an AK-47 from the trunk of Kosta’s car, Ramsey was told to scout ahead to make sure there was no one around. According to Deidre, it was at that time that Kosta told her that at most two people would be making the return trip that night. He told her that if she wanted to make it through the night, she would have to kill Ramsey.
The two prospective killers caught up with Ramsey and Kosta explained how the ritual would proceed. In addition to the weapons, Kosta carried a camcorder that would document the initiation. Each of the members of the club would commit a murder that would be videotaped. The tapes would be exchanged among the members as “insurance” to prevent anyone from going to the police in the future.
Reaching a remote clearing, Kosta told Deidre to tie Kevin to a nearby tree. Possibly believing that this was part of the ritual to prove his trust and not realizing that that he was the hunted, not the hunter, Kevin was compliant and silent when Kosta started the videotape.
The 57-second tape is shocking in its brutality. As if an outtake from a found-footage horror film, it opens with a single flashlight shining on the a closeup of Deidre Hunt, who stands a few yards away from the tree where Ramsey is facing her, his arms wrapped behind him and tied. A man’s voice, later positively identified as Kosta’s utters a single word: “OK.” The light pans to Ramsey.
“Don’t shine it in my eyes,” Ramsey says.
The shot widens so that Deidre and Kevin can both be seen, the flashlight bathing the scene in an eerie glow. Deidre points a .22-caliber handgun at Ramsey and with just a little pause, pulls the trigger three times, a quick double-tap and follow-up shot all hitting Ramsey in the chest. Kevin lifts one of his legs and groans.
“God,” he says. Then he slumps forward, the ropes holding him up. Deidre next walks up to the unconscious teen, grabs him by the hair and fires a fourth shot into his temple.
The recording stops.
After turning off the video recorder, Kosta picked up his AK-47 and fired a single 7.62mm slug into Kevin’s head to ensure he was dead. Leaving the teen’s body to the whims of nature, Kosta and Deidre left the woods and returned to Daytona Beach.
The first part of Kosta’s plan came off like clockwork. Not only had Kosta rid himself of Kevin Ramsey, who courted death by trying to blackmail him, he had his own extortion material to hold over Deidre Hunt. Kosta intended to use that leverage to get Deidre to help assassinate his wife.
Kill and be Killed
The first rays of sunshine were just beginning to turn the black skies to navy blue over the horizon on November 4, 1989 when 18-year-old Bryan Chase cut through the screen of a first-floor window in the home shared by Kosta and Lisa Fotopoulos.
Armed with a .22-caliber automatic, Chase skulked through the silent house to where Kosta and Lisa lay sleeping. Acting on the promise of a $5,000 payoff from Kosta, Chase, a troubled teen who spent his days loitering with the beach bums on the Daytona Beach arcade, was making his third attempt in as many days to kill Lisa. The previous attempts had failed when he was frightened off by neighbors and when he showed up at the home without a knife to cut the window screen.
After an angry confrontation earlier in the day with Kosta, Bryan managed to avoid the neighbors and enter the house without being seen. Entering the Fotopoulos’s bedroom, he could make out Lisa and Kosta sleeping. Bryan edged close to Lisa’s side of the bed, pointed the automatic at her head and fired.
The bullet entered Lisa’s forehead and, as bullets sometimes do, skidded from one side of her skull to the other, hugging the bone and coming to rest above her left eye. Miraculously, the shot not only failed to kill Lisa, it did only minor damage to her brain. Bryan squeezed the trigger a second time, but the weapon had jammed and no shot was fired.
Then it was time for Kosta’s part. Reaching beneath the bed, he pulled out a 9mm SIG-Sauer P226 and blew Bryan Chase away. The teenage, would-be hitman died on the floor of the bedroom. Kosta’s 911 call revealed just the right mixture of fear, adrenaline and panic that a homeowner who is forced to shoot an intruder would have.
The preliminary determination by the police was just what Kosta had hoped: Lisa was shot by a burglar who was in turn killed by Kosta. The plan hadn’t worked perfectly, of course. Lisa was still alive, but that was a problem for another day. As she lay in her hospital bed — doctors would be unable to remove the bullet for fear of causing more damage — Lisa told police what she remembered about the attack.
The evening had started normally, she said, with Kosta heading out to the backyard to bury a large black bag just before they retired for the night. Lisa said she didn’t consider that unusual because Kosta was a conspiracy “nut” who was constantly burying this or that. She told the police about the pending divorce.
The next thing she knew, she was awakened by a searing pain in her head and Kosta was talking on the phone to police, telling them that he had killed an intruder in his home.
Meanwhile, Kosta and Deidre were discussing the possibility to delivering a bomb hidden in a bouquet of flowers to hospital.
“Lisa had to die,” Deidre later told prosecutors. “She just had to die.”
Back at the scene of the crime, investigators were beginning to question whether Chase’s death wasn’t part of a larger plan. Lisa mentioned a curious incident that occurred about a week before when a young man attempted to rob her at the Joyland Amusement Center. Armed with a pistol, the man tried to force Lisa into a small, windowless room at the arcade, but she escaped by darting between his legs. The would-be robber fled without taking anything.
Looking at the clues, police noted that Bryan managed to cut through the one window on the ground level that was not connected to an alarm system. They also questioned why a burglar would shoot a sleeping woman yet not fire at the homeowner with a gun.
As a burglar, Chase was unconvincing. Police noted that he had to walk past an expensive stereo system and the bedrooms of Lisa’s mother and brother before reaching her bedroom.
Before closing the case, investigators decided to look a little deeper. They didn’t have to look very hard.
When the newspapers broke the story of how Kosta had killed an intruder in his home, 20-year-old Mike Cox, a friend of Deidre Hunt and Bryan Chase, was on the phone that day to police. He told investigators how Deidre had introduced him to Kosta who offered him $10,000 to kill his wife. Cox was convinced that he would have ended up like Chase.
Armed with this information, the Daytona Beach police brought Deidre in for an interview. Over the course of two hours, Deidre told everything she knew, including how Kevin Ramsey was killed.
She also revealed that Lisa had been targeted by hitmen five times over the past several weeks but that every attempt had failed. Kosta had wanted her murdered at a Halloween party, but the crowd scared off that would-be killer and another time the hitman’s car would not start, throwing a wrench into the plan to stage a car accident and kill her there.
Out of curiosity, the police dug up the black bag Kosta buried the night of Chase’s attack. Inside it was the AK-47 and .22 used to kill Kevin Ramsey.
Police quickly arrested Kosta Fotopoulos and after Deidre led authorities to Ramsey’s remains, she and Kosta were charged with two counts of first degree murder and numerous conspiracy charges.
The already-bizarre case still had a few surprises left, however.
Faced with the damning videotape, Deidre decided to throw herself on the mercy of the court and in May 1990, she withdrew her not guilty plea and pleaded guilty to two capital murder charges. The judge agreed to hold off on the penalty phase until after she testified against Kosta. By cooperating, Deidre hoped to avoid a date with Old Sparky, Florida’s electric chair.
“The prosecutor reiterated that the State was in no way waiving its intent to seek the death penalty, that there had been no backroom negotiations and no understanding that the State would not seek the death penalty,” the Florida Supreme Court would write later. “Hunt’s attorney explained that he had discussed the plea at length with Hunt and that they both agreed that ‘this plea and her offer to testify and cooperate in view of the facts and circumstances is really the only sensible and logical choice under this scenario.’”
However, as Kosta’s trial grew nearer, Deidre balked at testifying and the state moved ahead with its sentencing hearing. Over the course of several days, the judge listened to mitigating and aggravating testimony about whether Deidre was a blood-thirsty, ice-in-the-veins killer or an abused and emotionally troubled young woman.
The highlight of the sentencing hearing was when Deidre’s mother took the stand and said that she did not want her daughter to get the death penalty, but, shrugging her shoulders as if writing off a lost bauble, Carol Hunt added, “if it happens, it happens.”
When her time came, Deidre took responsibility for her acts and expressed remorse. She stood before the judge in an orange jail jumpsuit, quivering with nervous energy, repeatedly wiping her palms on her clothes. Then for 13 minutes, Deidre told her side of things.
“I take responsibility for my actions but I was a non-willing participant in these crimes,” she said tearfully. She maintained that Kosta had left her no choice. “If I had not done it, I would have died at the hands of Kosta Fotopoulos.”
Killing Kevin Ramsey was the “most disgusting, repulsive scene I ever saw in my life,” she said. “But I chose life, even with the horror, terror, fear and pain, and disgusting and degrading torture at this man’s hands.”
Finally, to the families of Ramsey and Chase, Deidre apologized.
“I want to express my sympathy and total compassion for what you’ve been exposed to.”
The judge was unmoved and sentenced her to death twice.
With nothing left to lose, Deidre testified against Kosta, who was also convicted and sentenced to death.
A murder-for-hire plot always generates press, and the freakish case of Deidre Hunt and Konstantinos Fotopoulos attracted the worst. Throw in a lawyer with a twisted sense of ethics and the result is Deidre Hunt being allowed to retract her guilty plea, earning a new trial and release from death row.
It happened in 1990, shortly after Deidre and Kosta had been convicted and sent off to prison.
Even with her guilty pleas, Deidre’s death sentences were automatically appealed. Peter Niles, the court-appointed attorney who had represented Deidre in court was handling her appeal and contacted the warden at Broward Correctional Institution to arrange an attorney-client meeting.
He told the warden that he had made arrangements with the prosecutor and the judge to videotape Deidre at BCI regarding testimony concerning Kosta. Niles indicated he would bring a law clerk and a cameraman to assist with the videotaping. The visit was approved.
However, when Niles and his crew sat down with Deidre, he advised his client that they were not working on her case, but the people he had brought with him were from the tabloid TV show “A Current Affair.”
Niles told Deidre that he was not being compensated for bringing the crew into the prison, and that she would not be paid for the interview. In fact, Niles had been promised $5,000 from the show’s producers if he set up the interview and a story subsequently aired. The deal had been in the works for six months, meaning that Niles was negotiating with “A Current Affair” at the same time he was representing Deidre Hunt before the state.
The piece ran under the headline “Deadly Deidre.”
When the revelation surfaced in 1993, the judge who heard Deidre’s guilty pleas had no choice but to grant her motion to rescind them.
“This court is legally obligated to find that when Mr. Niles counseled the defendant to enter guilty pleas, he was operating under a conflict of interest,” the judge ruled.
Of course, everyone except Deidre Hunt was livid.
“Niles engaged in extremely serious violations of the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar with lies and misrepresentations to his client, as well as to BCI, the public, and the legal profession as a whole through a sensational and derogatory media interview,” the Florida Supreme Court wrote, suspending the lawyer for a year.
“This is absolutely maddening,” said Stephen Cotter, spokesman for the state attorney’s office. “When it’s based on defense misconduct, that’s when the blood really starts boiling.”
Deidre Hunt went to trial in 1996. She was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.