NEW PORT RICHEY — Agitated and looking for a fix, Francis Sicola asked his brother to drive him around so he could burglarize some houses and get money for drugs.
About 11 p.m. on Aug. 28, 2008, Sicola crept up to a house in the Bear Creek subdivision of western Pasco County. The homeowner woke up and scared him off. As he ran, he dropped a black ski mask in the grass.
This much is no longer in dispute. A jury last year convicted Sicola of armed burglary. A judge gave him 15 years in prison.
But something much more serious went down later on the night of that burglary, about a mile away. Prosecutors say Sicola cut a screen and slipped into a house on Quimby Drive in quiet Timber Oaks where an elderly couple slept. Joe Wido, 82, who as a young man had earned the Bronze Star for bravery fighting Nazis in World War II, awoke and confronted the burglar, who shot him in the abdomen.
Worried neighbors entered the house the next morning and found Bobbe Wido on the floor next to her dead husband. She had spent 10 hours bound with duct tape but was otherwise unhurt.
After months of investigating, authorities caught up to Sicola in North Carolina. They used DNA from the ski mask and incriminating statements from Sicola's family members to tie him to the killing.
His trial started Monday. He faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree felony murder. Sicola, now 28, was already a felon when he was arrested, with two prison stints under his belt. He had a troubled childhood in Pasco, with multiple juvenile arrests and substance abuse problems that started at age 11.
Bobbe Wido died last year at age 81. Her health had declined since her husband's death.
But witnesses for the state recounted Mrs. Wido's horrific night for jurors Monday.
She remembered Joe confronting the gunman.
"I can take you on," Joe Wido told him.
Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said that after his arrest, Sicola made admissions to his mother and brother about shooting a man. The state also has pieces of evidence that don't directly link Sicola to the killing but point in his direction: a boot print that matches Sicola's boots; a backpack that matches Sicola's containing duct tape and a switchblade; cell phone records showing Sicola's phone sending signals to towers around the Widos' house the night of the killing.
Perhaps most damning is a letter Sicola wrote to his brother, Christopher, from jail in North Carolina.
He calls Christopher "Brub" and begs him to change his story.
"Please, please, please, just do your part and I'll do the rest," he wrote. "This is my life."
He implores Christopher to tell the detectives he was high on drugs and looking for reward money when he revealed what Sicola had said about the crime.
"Without that statement, they have no case on me. I will beat the charge," Sicola wrote.
Defense attorney Dean Livermore agreed the state has no scientific evidence directly incriminating Sicola. Christopher Sicola, he said, was trying to cover up his own role in the crime.
"Am I in trouble? I'm scared," Christopher Sicola said repeatedly to detectives when they interviewed him, according to Livermore.
"He was trying to protect himself," Livermore said.
The trial continues today.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.