BROOKSVILLE — Even the next morning, Robert Jardin said, the nightmare would not end.
Jardin told jurors that he had cried himself to sleep. He awoke with an upset stomach and shot nerves. He dragged himself to the bathroom, vomited into the sink and took a shower.
He could not shake the warning that "Rick" and "Bub" had given him the night before.
"Keep your mouth shut or something will happen to your kids," Jardin said Rick had told him before sending him on his way.
During a contentious and riveting hour and a half on the witness stand Friday morning, Jardin testified that he was merely an innocent bystander to the stabbing deaths of an elderly Masaryktown couple in late October 2006.
Jardin, 35, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, armed burglary and grand theft in the grisly deaths of Patrick DePalma, 84, and his wife, Evelyn DePalma, 79. If convicted of murder, he could be put to death.
Defense attorneys rested their case after Jardin's testimony Friday. After consulting briefly with jurors, Circuit Judge Jack Springstead decided to send the jury home for the weekend. Closing arguments in the case will begin Monday morning, followed by jury instructions and deliberations.
Though authorities have identified only Jardin publicly, court affidavits and hundreds of pages of documents reveal that other suspects remain at large in the deaths.
Jardin's indictment from August 2008 alleges that he stabbed Evelyn DePalma "multiple times with a knife or other sharp-bladed instrument" but later mentions "others whose identity is currently unknown."
The Sheriff's Office declared the case inactive as of April 15.
In a move that surprised many courtroom observers, Jardin took the witness stand Friday morning to tell jurors his version of events after 2 1/2 days of methodical testimony from the state, including evidence that placed him at the crime scene.
A DNA analyst told jurors Thursday that swabbings from a milk jug found in the DePalmas' kitchen showed that there was a 1-in-180 quadrillion chance that someone other than Jardin drank from the container.
Jardin, a former Marine and divorced father of three, explained to jurors how he ended up at the DePalmas' home.
He testified that he accepted a ride with a man named Rick to find some cocaine on the night of Oct. 28, 2006. Along the way, Jardin said, Rick stopped to pick up another man named Bub, and the trio continued to a secluded beige stucco home at 333 Korbus Lane, only a short drive from the Hernando-Pasco county line
Rick and Bub went inside the home, leaving Jardin in the car, Jardin said. About 15 minutes later, Rick beckoned Jardin inside, "into a nightmare."
"I could tell things were wrong," Jardin told jurors. "I freaked. I panicked more than anything."
He told the jury that he was too afraid to run or call for help and instead waited for the men to finish ransacking the house. On the way back to his home in Spring Hill, Jardin said, Rick threatened to harm his children if he ever told anyone about what had happened.
When Jardin woke up the next morning, he said, he found stolen items from the DePalmas' home in the bed of his truck, which was parked in front of his home.
"I knew the guys had come back from the night before," Jardin said. "The first thing I thought of was my children. … I took the items, and I put them in my room. I didn't know what else to do."
Jardin later paused while being questioned by Public Defender Alan Fanter, pouring himself a cup of water and appearing to shed a few tears.
Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino appeared to mock that moment at the start of his cross-examination, asking Jardin whether he was going to be okay.
"Are you going to need some more water because you're emotionally upset?" Magrino asked.
"I'm fine right now, sir," Jardin replied.
Magrino countered: "Were you tearing up the night you were in the DePalmas' home when they were getting murdered?"
Magrino questioned Jardin for more than an hour Friday, repeatedly asking him why he didn't tell authorities about the murder when given the opportunity during interviews. Magrino also pressed Jardin for the reason he lied about people other than Rick and Bub being involved in the murders.
Jardin responded that he told detectives the truth but later changed his story when they kept asking him questions.
"Police didn't want to believe that story, and I gave them two other names," Jardin said, "hoping that they would leave me alone."
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.