There is a 2001 movie titled Bully, named after the non-fiction book, about the 1993 murder of a sexually, emotionally and physically abusive 20-year-old man named Bobby Kent. The film received mixed reviews but was noted for its straightforward manner in examining youth violence. Nick Stahl offers a brilliant performance as Bobby Kent. As to whether the sociopathic Kent deserved his brutal end remains the opinion of the reader.
Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood – Florida – Hollywood is a middle-class suburb not far from Fort Lauderdale. Good-looking, athletic Bobby Kent was a privileged, popular kid. Kent had plans to attend university. He wanted to start his own business. His downtrodden friend, Martin Joseph (Marty) Puccio, wasn’t so lucky. Puccio dropped out of high school and had no ambition. He prided himself on his surfing ability and although he once won awards in surfing competitions, he also dropped out of these and didn’t seem to have any direction in his life. Puccio was Kent’s sidekick and lingered in Kent’s shadow. The boys lived one street away from each other and for years, had been inseparable. Friends called them “Siamese twins.” Yet the two boys were vastly different.
The two boys worked out at the local YMCA and began steroid use. Around that time, Kent became abusive. He turned his dog on Puccio. Kent occasionally beat Puccio unconscious. He often insulted him in front of strangers and friends. Whenever Puccio seemed to be doing well socially, Kent managed to intervene and put a stop to it until Puccio met an 18-year-old girl named Lisa Connelly. Connelly was also a high school dropout, who was insecure about her looks. Connelly’s best friend was 17-year-old Alice (Ali) Willis, a single mother and divorcee. The four teens went out on a double date one night. Willis performed oral sex on Kent in the front seat of his car and Connelly and Puccio had sex in the backseat.
The relationships were all affected by Kent’s abuse. On one occasion, as the relationship between Puccio and Connelly progressed, Kent beat Puccio unconscious then beat and raped Connelly. After she was raped, Connelly discovered she was pregnant and had no idea whether the father was Kent or Puccio. Willis continued to date Kent until he abused her, then she would break up with him until Kent begged her forgiveness and the cycle would begin again.
Both sets of parents, the Kents and the Puccios, were wary of the friendship between their sons. Puccio’s parents, Martin Sr. and Veronica, were cautious because Marty often returned from being with Kent with bruises or bleeding. Fred and Farrah Kent thought of Puccio as a wayward slacker who had no future and felt the friendship with his son would destroy their son’s future. It appeared that the Kents had no idea their son was a bully and was abusing Puccio.
Both 20-year-old men appeared to be homophobic, publicly stating their hatred for homosexuals. At the same time, the two began exploring homosexual pornography and the homosexual lifestyle. Kent forced Puccio to perform in a homosexual pornographic video and used it as blackmail to get whatever he wanted from Puccio. Kent wouldn’t allow Puccio to walk away from their abusive relationship. Connelly felt threatened by Kent’s influence over Puccio. She devised the plan to kill Kent, claiming it was to save Puccio from Kent’s abuse. Connelly would later state that her talk about killing Kent was merely talk. She explained that there were times she would shout, “I just want to kill my mom!…you don’t mean you really want to go and stab your mom to death.” To this day, Connelly insists she wasn’t the ringleader in the murder plot and didn’t recruit anyone to kill Kent. “If I wanted him dead I could have murdered him myself.”
However, on July 13, 1993, Connelly called Willis and told her that “Bobby Kent was planning to come to Palm Bay (where Willis was living) to murder her and smother her baby (by a previous relationship) unless she returned to Broward County to date him again.” Connelly asked Willis to come to Connelly’s house to discuss murdering Kent. Willis went to Connelly’s house and brought two friends, her current boyfriend, Donald Semenec (aged 17), and Heather Swallers (aged 18). Some of the teens approached a young man named Derek Kaufman who called himself a professional assassin. In reality, Kaufman was a fast-talking punk who promised but was unable to secure a handgun for Kent’s murder. He remained part of the planning and was at the Everglades on the night of Kent’s murder.
On Friday July 14, 1993, under the guise of “drag-racing“, the teens lured Kent to a construction site near the Everglades. Kent also thought he might be able to have sex with his former girlfriend. On this evening, nothing seemed unusual to Kent. One of the group suggested they go for a swim and joked with Kent as to whether there were alligators in the swamp. Suddenly, out of the darkness, Semenec appeared with a large knife and stabbed Kent in the neck. Puccio stabbed Kent in the abdomen several times. Kent screamed “Marty whatever I’ve done I’m sorry!” The young men in the group chased Kent when he tried to run and beat him. Austin stood over Kent and smashed him in the head with an aluminum baseball bat. Puccio, Semenec, and Kaufman tackled, stabbed, and beat Kent as he tried to run away. Puccio slit Kent’s throat and hit his head against the ground. Kaufman approached and hit Kent in the head with the baseball bat, which was the final blow. Dzvirko helped dump Kent’s body into a canal.
After the killing, the group cleaned off the baseball bat and threw the knives into the ocean. They created an alibi; Kent hadn’t joined them at the Everglades but instead had gone out with a girl hone of them knew. Dzvirko warned the group that “if anyone talked, they would be next.” The following day, Fred Kent attended Puccio’s house to inquire about his son. He hadn’t come home. Puccio stated he had indeed seen Kent the evening before, but they hadn’t remained together. Connelly appeared in the doorway, crying and hysterical. Puccio turned to her and snarled “shut the fuck up and get back in the house!” Fred left and called police, filing a missing persons report.
The following day Connelly told a friend about the murder. The friend called the police. Detectives interviewed Connelly and Puccio who swore they knew nothing about Kent’s murder. In a flat voice, Puccio stated, “I hope he’s not, I pray to God he’s not dead because I don’t know how I’d live my life. It would be very hard for me.” For her part, when she was asked if she knew anything about Kent’s disappearance, Connelly stated, “if I knew I would tell you.” Years later, Connelly admitted “I lied to the police; they knew I was lying. How could they not know I was lying?”
Three days after the killing, Willis, fearing for her life, called police. “I said I’m really scared they’re going to kill me. They’re going to kill me!” Within hours Willis described the murder to police. Willis wasn’t read her rights until after the interrogation, when she was arrested. The police placed her in a jail cell and informed her, “by the way you know you’re being charged with murder one.”
Dvirko also went to police that same day. He took police to the Everglades and he also described the events that took place three days before. Kent’s body lay at the shore of the Everglades. Dvirko was placed under arrest. Based on both confessions, arrest warrants were issued for all of the young killers.
Monday July 19 1993, a detective encountered Fred Kent in his driveway. Kent hadn’t been notified about his son’s death. Kent asked the officer “is this about my son?” The officer consented and told Kent his son was dead. Kent burst into tears. While all seven of the group admitted to the killing and had taken part in it, none took responsibility. They claimed Bobby Kent was a vicious bully and this was their form of revenge. They felt no remorse or guilt. All of them pleaded not guilty to the charge of first degree murder. They told police Kent was killed because he was “a ruthless bully.” Accordingly, the media dubbed the killing The Bully Murder. A closer look at the situation however revealed contradictions in the young people’s statements. Not all of them were bullied by Kent, or even knew him. The planning and killing of Bobby Kent was an exciting fantasy that became an obsession for the disturbed young people.
The jury had no sympathy for Puccio, Willis and Connelly’s abuse at the hands of Bobby Kent. The three could have found help from their families or social agencies, but instead chose to murder their friend. Puccio received the death penalty for the first degree murder of Kent which was later overturned to life in prison. Semenec was charged with second-degree murder and was given life plus 15 years imprisonment. Kaufman was charged with first degree murder and sentenced to life plus 30 years. Willis was charged with first degree murder and sentenced to 40 years. She was released in 2001. Connelly was charged with second degree murder and sentenced to life plus 5 years. She was released from custody in 2004. Dzvirko was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for second-degree murder. He was released in 1999. Swallers received 7 years in prison for second-degree murder. She was released in 1998.