The Brutal Murder That Inspired The 2001 Film Bully

On July 15, 1993, 20-year-old Bobby Kent was brutally murdered at a remote stone quarry in Weston, Florida. His body was then dumped into a canal. The murder was specifically heinous as Kent was killed by several friends, including his best friend, Marty Puccio, who he had known since third grade. The relationship between Kent and Puccio lasted nearly 12 years and had many facets, both good and bad. However, by 1993, Puccio seemed to have become frustrated to the point of ending his friend's life to protect himself and several others. 

In addition to Puccio, those implicated in Kent's murder were Lisa Connelly, Derek Dzirvko, Derek Kaufman, Donald Semenec, Heather Swallers, and Alice "Ali" Willis. According to The Miami Herald, several of the participants claimed Kent was a cruel and relentless bully. They claim the assault, and ultimately murder, were necessary to stop the ongoing harassment. Some of the others said they simply got caught up in the scheme, without knowing Kent would actually be killed. However, they were all eventually criminally charged. 

The events leading up to, and including, Kent's murder were detailed in the 1998 book, "Bully: Does Anyone Deserve to Die," by Jim Schultze, which was the inspiration for the award-winning 2001 film "Bully." Here's the true story that inspired it.

The following article includes allegations of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Bobby Kent and Marty Puccio were childhood friends

Bobby Kent and Martin "Marty" Puccio (pictured) met when they were young boys. According to the book, "Bully: Does Anyone Deserve to Die," they were both raised in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood in Hollywood, Florida. By all accounts, Kent and Puccio were both raised in relatively stable homes. Both boys participated in extracurricular activities, and their parents were an active part of their lives. However, there was a distinct difference between Kent and Puccio's personalities.

Kent was an extrovert, who was popular among his peers. In elementary school, his classmates chose him to be the so-called "King" of the class. As stated in "Bully: Does Anyone Deserve to Die," Kent was outgoing, outspoken, and had the personality of a born leader. Puccio, on the other hand, appeared to be far more reserved than Kent and more of a follower. However, the boys shared a lot of the same interests, including participating in sports and even playing pranks on their friends and classmates. In fact, the boys became so close, they eventually earned the nickname "Siamese twins."

Kent and Puccio remained close friends throughout their teens. However, the differences between the boys only became more apparent. Kent cemented his role as the leader in the friendship and Puccio was Kent's steadfast follower. Although there were suggestions of some bullying, perpetrated by Kent, Puccio seemed willing to accept it as an inevitable part of their lifelong friendship.

Bobby and Marty were troubled teens

Bobby Kent and Marty Puccio both started getting into trouble in their early teens. As reported by The Miami Herald, both of them skipped school periodically to spend time with their friends and go surfing. However, Puccio, in particular, started having more serious problems around the age of 16. According to his parents, Puccio missed so much school that he was in danger of failing. He also got into trouble for his disorderly conduct when he did attend. Puccio ultimately dropped out during his junior year.

At around the same time, Puccio also started getting into trouble with the law. Although the crimes he was charged with were not serious, his unruly behavior seemed to be escalating. On at least one occasion, Puccio and Kent were both arrested for trespassing. After Puccio dropped out of school and both of the boys were arrested, Kent's parents came very close to selling their home and moving to another city to get their son away from Puccio – whom they considered a bad influence. 

However, during a later interview on the CrimeJuicy podcast, Puccio claimed things were not as they seemed. Puccio said that Kent " ... was always portrayed to be the good guy ... he manipulated so well, and he talked so well ... it would be hard for me to convince people that [the manipulation] was actually happening ... "

Lisa Connelly said Bobby was abusive

Marty Puccio began dating Lisa Connelly (pictured) when they were both in their late teens. As reported by The Miami Herald, Connelly was smitten with Puccio and had dreams of a bright future. However, their relationship was far from healthy. Connelly later admitted Puccio was both emotionally and physically abusive, and routinely humiliated her in front of their friends. When Connelly became pregnant, Puccio pressured her to get an abortion. When she did not have enough money to pay for the procedure, Puccio told her it was her responsibility to figure out how to pay for it.

Although she was clearly being abused herself, Connelly seemed more concerned about Puccio's relationship with Bobby Kent, and the fact that Puccio was also being emotionally and physically abused. The Miami Herald reports several witnesses later confirmed Kent slapped or punched Puccio on numerous occasions, for seemingly innocuous reasons. Connelly said Puccio often came home with bruises after spending time with Kent — with little or no explanation.

Connelly was also annoyed with the amount of time Puccio and Kent spent together, as it infringed on her time with her boyfriend. In an effort to keep Kent busy, and away from her boyfriend, Connelly introduced him to her friend Alice "Ali" Willis. Although Kent and Willis began dating, and Willis even told her mother "he may be marriage material," Kent soon began showing his true colors.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Bobby's friends thought he was a bully

When Bobby Kent became physically abusive toward his new girlfriend Ali Willis (pictured), she ended their relationship, reported the abuse to local authorities, and moved back home with her mother. Marty Puccio and Lisa Connelly, however, stayed together despite the ongoing abuse. Connelly ultimately blamed Kent for her boyfriend's behavior.

The Miami Herald reports Connelly confronted Puccio about his relationship with Kent, and Puccio eventually confessed he felt he had been controlled and abused by Kent since they were children. During his interview with CrimeJuicy, Puccio admitted that the " emotional turmoil that I was going through ... I had suicidal thoughts for quite some time because I had no clue on how to deal with somebody who was so violent and so obsessed with me ... " According to Connelly, Puccio told her, "The only way [Kent] could be stopped was to be killed." Connelly called Willis to discuss her plan, and her friend reportedly agreed with her decision. 

As stated in Marty Puccio's appeal, Willis moved to Palm Bay, Florida, after she and Kent broke up. However, she agreed to meet Connelly in Broward County after receiving her call. According to The Miami Herald, Willis took her new boyfriend, Donny Semenec, and her friend, Heather Swallers, with her to meet up with Connelly. However, it is unclear whether the others were aware of the macabre plan until they arrived at their destination.

Bobby's friends plot his murder

On the evening of July 14, 1993, The Miami Herald reports Lisa Connelly and Ali Willis lured Bobby Kent to a stone quarry by promising him he could drive Willis' Mustang. Although Connelly brought her mother's gun, with the intention of shooting and killing Kent, she later told authorities she " ... got scared ... chickened out." Instead, Connelly, Willis, and Kent, all went back to Kaufman's house, where they met with Marty Puccio, Heather Swallers (pictured), and Donald "Donny" Semenec. Shortly after they arrived, Kent and Willis left together. When Willis returned, she said Kent had raped her.

Throughout the evening, the friends discussed the possibility of killing Kent, and they all came to the conclusion that he had to be stopped. They decided to work together to make it happen. During his interview with the CrimeJuicy podcast, Puccio explained, "Our culture, our society in the '90s, glorifying the person who took the law to their own hands ... even when it was perceived as wrong what they're doing. Our heroes were the tough guys, Wesley Snipes. And it's kind of give us the wrong idea as a young boy growing up. You know, a bully, facing someone who is terrorizing them."

The Miami Herald reports the plan was for Puccio to tell Kent that Willis wanted to meet him at the stone quarry to rekindle their relationship. When they all arrived at the meeting place, they planned to ambush Kent and ultimately kill him.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Bobby Kent was beaten and stabbed to death

Ali Willis drove her Mustang, with Bobby Kent in the passenger seat, and Heather Swallers and Donny Semenec (pictured) in the back. Although Semenec was Ali Willis' boyfriend, Swallers and Semenec told Kent they were dating so he would not be suspicious of their motives. Marty Puccio drove his mother's vehicle, with Lisa Connelly, Derek Kaufman, and Connelly's cousin, Derek Dzvirko, as his passengers.

As reported by The Miami Herald, everyone got out of the cars when they arrived at the stone quarry. While they were standing around talking, Willis and Kent eventually broke away from the group and walked to the shore of a canal. While Kent was facing the other way, Semenec approached him from behind and stabbed him in the neck with a military knife. Kent immediately turned to the friend he had known since third grade, and pleaded for him to help. However, instead of helping Kent, Puccio approached his friend with a scuba knife and literally gutted him.

Although he was critically injured, Kent attempted to escape his attackers. Unfortunately, he did not make it very far. Semenec, Puccio, and Kaufman chased him down and proceeded to beat and stab Kent as he pleaded for his life. As stated in Marty Puccio's appeal, Kaufman and Puccio ultimately dumped Kent's lifeless body in a canal before everyone fled the scene.

Ali Willis anonymously reported the murder

After fleeing the scene, both Lisa Connelly and Ali Willis began expressing guilt for their part in the brutal attack. In a later interview with authorities, The Miami Herald reports Connelly said she began questioning the possibility of "going to hell," for her participation in the commission of a mortal sin. However, it was Willis who ultimately reported the murder.

Initially, Bobby Kent was reported as a missing person, and his disappearance was investigated as such. However, Willis eventually called Crimestoppers, anonymously, to report Kent was murdered. During the call, she told authorities that Connelly and Marty Puccio were responsible for Kent's death. Connelly's cousin, Derek Dzvirko (pictured), was the one who led authorities to the canal where Kent's body was dumped.

All seven people who were present when Kent was killed were arrested and charged with having some part in his murder. During their initial police interviews, everyone, with the exception of Dzvirko and Puccio confessed to their involvement in Kent's death. However, as reported by The Baltimore Sun, Lieutenant Richard Scheff said, "The person who inflicted the greatest wounds was Martin Puccio. What you're seeing is all the slights and digs he has endured over the last few years as their relationship soured, manifesting themselves in his attack on Bobby Kent."

Convictions and sentencing in the murder of Bobby Kent

The participants in the planning of Kent's murder, and the attack and murder itself, were all convicted and sentenced in accordance with their degree of participation in the crimes.

As reported by SunSentinel, Marty Puccio was convicted of first-degree murder, and was subsequently sentenced to death based on the calculated and cruel nature of the crime. Although he remained on death row for more than two years, Puccio's sentence was reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years by Florida's Supreme Court in 1997. According to Marty Puccio's appeal, the court ultimately determined, "Nothing in the trial court's findings ... indicates that Puccio played a greater role in the planning and killing of Kent than any of the others. In fact, he played a lesser role than others in the planning since he was not present during the initial formulation of the plan or when the group discussed ways to kill Kent ... "

As stated in Marty Puccio's appeal, Derek Kaufman was also convicted of first-degree murder. However, he was spared the death penalty and was instead sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years. Lisa Connelly, Derek Dzvirko, Donny Semenec, Heather Swallers, and Alice Willis were all convicted of second-degree murder. Connelly was initially sentenced to life in prison plus five years. However, Sun Sentinel reports her original sentence was also overturned in 1997 and was ultimately reduced to 22 years.

Where are they now?

Lisa Connelly ultimately served only 11 years of her 22-year sentence. SunSentinel reports she moved to Pennsylvania following her release. By 2013, Connelly was the mother of two children. Heather Swallers, who was sentenced to seven years in prison, served a total of five years. By 2013, she had moved to the state of Georgia and was the mother of two children. Derek Dzvirko, who was sentenced to 11 years, served only six years in prison. Following his release, he eventually moved to Missouri. As of 2013, Dzvirko had a child and was reportedly single.

As stated in Marty Puccio's appeal, Donny Semenec was sentenced to life in prison plus 15 years. As of 2013, he was still incarcerated (pictured). Derek Kaufman, who was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years, is also still incarcerated.

Ali Willis was sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, she was released after only eight years. During a 2011 interview with 6 News Florida, Willis admitted she had some regrets about her involvement in the incident. However, she also said, "It was a big deal, but I didn't kill him ... I honestly didn't believe that he would end up dead. How can you feel remorse for something you didn't do?" In 2013, Willis was charged with petty theft, which was also a violation of her parole. As reported by Forensic Files Now, Willis managed to avoid prison time for the probation violation. As of 2018, Willis was living in Florida with her husband and four children.

What happened to Marty Puccio?

Marty Puccio is incarcerated as of 2023, serving his life sentence plus 30 years. During an interview with the CrimeJuicy podcast, Puccio and the daughter he had with Lisa Connelly, whose name is Megan, announced that they have been in contact and developed a close relationship.

Although a majority of the interview focused on Puccio's relationship with Bobby Kent, and Kent's subsequent murder, Puccio also expressed an interest in helping children and teens who are being bullied by sharing his story. During the interview, Puccio said, "I would tell kids today that they need to ... talk to an adult about what's happening. And if they don't get immediate results, call the police ... and get it on record that this person is harassing you ... keep on talking about it until somebody will take you serious [sic] ... pride is not worth spending decades [in prison]."

In 2021, a man named Jerry Doe, who admittedly did not personally know Puccio, started a petition for a pardon and Puccio's release from prison. In his petition, which as of March 2023 had 1,531 signatures, Doe outlined the abuse and bullying Kent reportedly inflicted on Puccio and Lisa Connelly. He also encouraged anyone interested in the case to see the 2001 film "Bully."

Bully the film verses reality

The 2001 film, "Bully," which starred Brad Renfro as Marty Puccio, Nick Stahl as Bobby Kent (pictured), Bijou Phillips as Ali Willis, and Rachel Miner as Lisa Connelly, was honored with a Prism Certificate of merit and Stockholm Film Festival Bronze Horse award. Rachel Miner also won a Stockholm Film Festival award for best actress. 

Although the film was a fictionalized account of Kent's murder, director Larry Clark said he wanted the film to provide an accurate account of the events leading up to the murder and the murder itself. In an interview with New York Post, Clark said, "This is a true story, and I'm just trying to make it as real as possible. So many films are homogenized and sanitized and Hollywood-ized, but this is trying to get that feeling of what it's really like to go through something like this."

During his interview with the CrimeJuicy podcast, Puccio admitted he had never seen the film, "Bully." However, he said, " What I've heard of it, it's off quite a bit. It would be really hard to capture mental, emotional and physical trauma ... that was going on in my mind ... " During an interview with NBC Miami, Ali Willis said she had seen the film. In her opinion, the scenes depicting the details of Kent's actual murder were largely faithful to the actual events on the evening Kent was killed.