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Killer of Port Richey WWII veteran is convicted

PORT RICHEY

Murray Johnston and his wife came home one day a few months ago to find a detective's business card tucked into their door. The words "please contact me" were scribbled on it. Johnston called Pasco County sheriff's Detective Jason Hatcher that evening. "We want to reopen the crime scene," Hatcher told him. "What crime scene?" a perplexed Johnston asked. There was a pause. Then Hatcher said, "Oh, you don't know."

The Johnstons found their paradise on Quimby Drive. After a couple of years of renting in a noisy area of New Port Richey, they were looking for a quiet home with a view, not a fence. They toured dozens of places in the fall of 2009 before a real estate agent showed them the tile-roofed home in Timber Oaks.

They arrived and walked around to the back yard, which overlooks a pond and a bird sanctuary, through the screened porch and into the living room.

Just inside those sliding doors, Johnston stopped in his tracks.

"I've got a really weird feeling," he told his wife. "I think somebody died here, and not in a good way."

She dismissed him, but he insisted.

"I think somebody was murdered here," he said.

Ellen Johnston told her husband he was out of his bleepity-bleepin' mind. He didn't argue, and on they went, checking out the kitchen, then the master bedroom.

They were sold.

• • •

In the wee hours of Aug. 28, 2008, Joe and Bobbe Wido were sleeping in that bedroom when a stranger with a bandanna over his face appeared and told the couple to get up.

"I can take you on," Joe, an 82-year-old World War II combat veteran, told the burglar.

He hadn't seen the man's gun.

One shot and Joe fell. The robber then bound up Bobbe, 79, with duct tape and left her on the floor near her dying husband as he ransacked the house for pills and valuables.

Months later, authorities arrested 26-year-old Francis Sicola, who grew up in Pasco and hadn't made it out of elementary school before he started getting into trouble. They say Sicola was looking for drugs that night and had tried to burglarize another house a mile away before he ended up at the Widos' home.

Sicola, now 28, was convicted Thursday evening of felony first-degree murder at the courthouse about 2 miles down Little Road from Quimby Drive.

• • •

Johnston is 57. His wife is 46. His age qualified them to live in Timber Oaks, a 55-and-over community where most of the neighbors are much older. They love the place.

He works for a lighting company in Clearwater; she's in medical equipment. The house is undergoing a major remodeling, most of which Johnston is doing himself.

After they had been living there about a year, Johnston said, his grown son came by with his girlfriend and her best friend. As the three of them walked through the house to the back porch, the friend stopped short by the sliding doors.

Same thing. Same weird feeling. Did someone die here?

Those incidents came barrelling back into the Johnstons' minds the night Murray Johnston talked to Hatcher on the phone. Johnston remembers his wife's eyes bulging as he repeated the detective's words: "Someone was murdered here?"

They don't consider themselves superstitious people. Still, they say they have felt Joe Wido's proximity several times since then. Ellen will feel a gentle pat on her back when she's standing at the kitchen sink, alone. Sitting in the TV room, Johnston will think he sees something out of the corner of his eye — something he'd normally chalk up to the tricks his bifocals play — but when he turns his head, nothing is there.

Sometimes, in the dead of night, Mia the cat will start meowing loudly.

"Joe, quit teasing the cat," Johnston will call out.

He says he has developed a comfortable but reverent attitude toward Joe Wido and the shadowy presence he maintains. Johnston still knows little about him, except that the neighbors all loved him and that he must have been a handy guy, judging by the condition of the house.

He knows Joe Wido stood up in the face of evil, and he didn't deserve what he got.

"Joe," he said, "is well-respected here."

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Killer of Port Richey WWII veteran is convicted 05/12/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 8:48pm]
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