NEW PORT RICHEY — Jude Futral had waited almost three years to hear the word: Guilty.
She had suffered from stress, feared going out. She had felt like somebody was coming up behind her. Now it was her turn to speak. She stood before the judge, a few feet from the man who had just been convicted of killing her father, Joseph Wido.
"He devastated my family and friends,'' she said, hands trembling.
Then she counted the other casualties: Joe's best friend who played pinochle with him; an aunt consumed by grief; the two people who discovered Joe's body; Bobbe Wido, Joe's wife of almost 60 years.
All died before they could see justice — all before the jury came back after five hours of deliberation to convict Francis Sicola, 28, of first-degree felony murder. Circuit Judge Michael Andrews immediately sentenced him to life in prison.
Outside the courtroom, Pasco Sheriff's Detective Jason Hatcher waited to console Futral, one of two Wido daughters, and congratulate prosecutors. Hatcher had been the lead detective on the case since neighbors discovered the Widos nearly 10 hours after Joe had been shot to death in the wee hours of Aug. 28, 2008. The masked intruder had bound Mrs. Wido with duct tape and left her next to her husband while he ransacked the house on Quimby Drive in the quiet Timber Oaks subdivision.
As he gathered evidence at the crime scene, Hatcher went through a dresser. He saw medals and souvenirs that Joe had brought back from war with the Nazis. Joe had been a hero, earning the Bronze Star for bravery. Mrs. Wido told Hatcher how that bravery surfaced again at the end as he confronted the much shorter intruder and said, "I can take you on.'' The gunshot, just below his chest at point-blank range, killed him instantly.
"It made me sick to my stomach,'' Hatcher said. "You go into combat, you serve your country, only to be taken down in your twilight, taken down in your own home.''
Hatcher pledged to find the killer. And in January 2009, the trail led to Sicola, a criminal and drug abuser since childhood with 10 felony convictions. Hours before the random break-in at the Widos, Sicola had tried to burglarize a home in a nearby subdivision but was scared away. He dropped a black ski mask and DNA tests led Hatcher to arrest him in a small North Carolina town.
Authorities never found any physical proof tying Sicola to the murder. But they were able to use the earlier burglary attempt and damning statements from Sicola's own family to arrest him. And in time, they engaged a cell phone engineer who testified that Sicola's phone either made or received calls near the Wido home at about the same time he would have committed the crime.
The state's two star witnesses were Sicola's brother and mother.
Christopher Sicola, 33, testified that Francis took several prescription painkillers during a family gathering on Aug. 27, 2008. He was agitated, saying he needed money to get home to North Carolina.
"He wanted to steal stuff," Christopher said. "I thought that meant breaking into some cars … steal some money. He said break in to homes. I didn't want nothing to do with that."
Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis asked Christopher what his brother said when he asked if he had shot Joe Wido.
"Yes," the older brother swore.
As detectives were zeroing in on Francis Sicola, they visited Donna Clancy, Sicola's mother, at her home in Regency Park. They secretly recorded the conversation.
"He was working on my car and he said, 'I capped somebody's ass and I'm going back to North Carolina,' " Clancy said in a recording played for jurors.
After the verdict on Thursday, Detective Hatcher thought about that first day at the crime scene and about the funeral he attended for Bobbe Wido in September. "It's been a long process,'' he said, "but finally … it's over.''
Bill Stevens can be reached at email@example.com, or at (727) 869-6250.