Shane McCarthy is a quiet man with a beard and glasses who was used to speaking with his mother several times a day. He tried not to cry when he spoke of her Wednesday, the first day of the trial of her murder. McCarthy's stepfather, Damian Ficarra, 56, is accused of murdering Michelle Ficarra, his wife of 25 years, in June 2010. Authorities say Ficarra duct-taped her body to a moving dolly and stored it inside the garage of their Port Richey home for at least a day, possibly two.
McCarthy was the one who found her.
"Is this hard for you to talk about?" asked Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia.
"Yes," McCarthy said on the stand. He needed to take a moment before continuing.
McCarthy testified that he hadn't heard from his mother for three days. He had been calling and texting frantically and on June 24, 2010, he decided to find out what was going on. His relationship with his stepfather had been strained since Mr. Ficarra's arrest that March for allegedly hitting Michelle Ficarra, who told an officer responding to their home on Green Street that she didn't need any help, a report states. She held her face, winced in pain, and wouldn't say what had happened; only that she loved her husband and didn't want any trouble for him.
Before he lost contact with his mother, McCarthy had been working to get her a place to live on her own. A friend of his got her a job in telemarketing. She was going to move out soon, McCarthy testified.
Anxious to speak with her, he went to the Ficarra home and pounded on the door. It was silent. McCarthy, now 32, sat in his car and honked his horn until his stepfather emerged.
"Your mother is sleeping," McCarthy said his stepfather told him. "Come inside."
McCarthy refused. He didn't want to be alone in the house with Ficarra.
"I told him if he didn't get my mother out here to talk to me, I was going to call the police," McCarthy said, "and he said 'Call the police,' and he went back in the house."
"And he shut the door?" Sarabia said.
"Yes he did," McCarthy said.
"And did you call the police?"
"Yes I did."
When Port Richey police arrived, McCarthy and the officers entered the house through an unlocked porch door.
Damian Ficarra was gone.
"I remember calling for my mom," McCarthy said. "I walked first to her bedroom and she wasn't there. I went to my old room and she wasn't there. I went to the living room and she wasn't on the couch. And I went to the garage. I had to force open the garage door and I found my mother.
"She was on the floor, duct taped to a hand truck. She was dead."
She was on her back, a large gash on her head. Sarabia said she had been dead 24 to 48 hours. Upon seeing his mother's body, McCarthy ran outside.
"I lost it," he said.
Damian Ficarra was found hiding underneath a trailer on the property and arrested, authorities said. He is charged with second degree murder and, if convicted, faces life in prison.
Public defender Darrin Johnson said his client did not murder his wife. In his opening statement to the jury, he portrayed Michelle Ficarra as an overweight, unemployed "drama queen" ailing from cirrhosis of the liver who fell on her own accord while arguing with her husband, hit her head and died.
Johnson said on June 22, 2010, the Ficarras fought because their home was in foreclosure.
"She's mad like a swarm of bees," Johnson said.
Damian Ficarra turns up the TV and ignores her, Johnson said.
"Now she's kicking the back of the couch, continuing to scream at him," Johnson said. "The couch kicking eventually stops."
Later, Ficarra notices his wife laying on the floor. He thought she was faking an injury to get sympathy, Johnson said.
"'Wow, she's trying to milk this for everything that it's worth,'" Johnson said Ficarra thought to himself. He left her there and went to sleep. The next morning, Johnson said, Ficarra noticed his wife was dead.
Why didn't he call for help?
"He thought about it," Johnson said. "But to him, she's laying there, she's not alive. They are not going to believe his story."
So he put his wife in the garage and waited.
"He doesn't run. He doesn't disappear," Johnson said. "He remains in the home... and it's just a matter of time before he has to face facts and deal with them."
The trial continues today.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.