NEW PORT RICHEY — It's not a whodunit. Attorneys on both sides agree that Theodore Diller, 70, killed his wife on Feb. 22, 2012, with two shots from a .357-caliber revolver. He covered her with a blanket and then took a lot of pills.
"I popped her once. I popped her again to make sure," prosecutor Eva Vergos said Tuesday during opening arguments in Diller's murder trial, repeating Diller's confession. "I took something that was almost a societal beast, a disease, off the market."
The disagreement over what motivated the shooting begins and ends at the why. The defense says Diller was insane when he killed his wife and should be acquitted. The state says the murder was premeditated.
Diller and his wife, Rhonda, filed for divorce in 2008, but then closed the case themselves. They filed again in 2010, and were close to a final resolution, Vergos said. However, Diller worried that he would lose his lakefront home on Julia Lane in Land O'Lakes, in the divorce. So he took action.
The marriage, Vergos said, was not a great one — contentious, bitter and exhausting. Rhonda Diller was 19 when she married. It was her first and her husband's third. She died at 58.
The night before the killing, Diller complained to friends that he was going to be homeless. He loved that lakefront property, Vergos said, and he didn't want to lose it.
Defense attorney Catherine Garrett told jurors the case was about two mentally ill people on a crash course to disaster.
"It's not about who, when, where or how," she said. "It's about why. Why did he kill his beloved wife and then try to take his own life?"
Diller's friend Ricky Perez testified that he found Diller unconscious in the kitchen of his home the day of the shooting. Diller told him not to call 911. He did, and when paramedics arrived they found guns on the counter. When they cleared one, Perez noticed two bullets missing. He went to check on Rhonda Diller and found her on the ground covered by a blanket.
Garrett said Diller was "in a state of mental illness so severe it would qualify for insanity."
The trial is expected to last all week. Diller faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.