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Whether shooting was in self-defense is issue in Hernando County murder trial

BROOKSVILLE — One summer night two years ago, William James Siskos walked to a neighbor's house in Spring Hill with a Ruger .22-caliber pistol tucked into his waist. Minutes later, the husband of the woman Siskos called his girlfriend lay on his back, bleeding in the driveway of the home on Ligonier Road.

Prosecutors say Siskos shot 46-year-old Joseph "Joey" Kasbach without provocation. Siskos, 42, maintains that he pulled the trigger in self-defense after Kasbach hit him twice and appeared to reach for a weapon.

Now a Hernando County jury must decide whether Siskos is guilty of second-degree murder.

During opening statements in Hernando County Circuit Court on Monday, attorneys on each side told jurors what is not in dispute.

At the time of the shooting, Kasbach and his wife, Kim, were married, but separated, and Kim and Siskos were dating. On July 9, the Kasbachs were visiting with friends at the Ligonier Road home when Siskos showed up looking for Kim. She told one of the people at the house to tell Siskos that she would be leaving shortly, and he left.

Joey Kasbach was sitting in the driver's seat of his car talking to Bill Mullins, who lived at the house, when Siskos returned a short time later.

Mullins, the state's key witness, testified Monday that Kasbach got out of his car and exchanged words with Siskos for several minutes. When Kasbach stretched his arms out to the side and took a small step forward, Mullins testified, Siskos "takes a gun out of his waistband and shoots him in the belly."

Public defender Barbara-Jo Bell asked about Kasbach punching Siskos.

"Never happened," Mullins said. "(Kasbach) wanted to talk this thing over and resolve it."

Anticipating his testimony, Bell tried to cast doubt on Mullins by telling jurors that he and his girlfriend, who was also at the house that night and testified Monday, are taking Joey Kasbach's side because they wanted Siskos out of the picture so the couple could reconcile.

During a hearing last month, Bell failed to convince Judge Daniel Merritt Jr. that Siskos shouldn't face trial because he was defending himself under Florida's controversial "stand your ground" law. After eight hours of testimony, Merritt deliberated for about 45 minutes, then denied the defense's motion.

During that hearing, Siskos testified that he carried the gun for protection that night because he was trying to retrieve his girlfriend from a "drug house." He said Kasbach punched him once in the mouth and then again in the temple. Dazed from the blows, Siskos said, he fired only after he saw Kasbach reach for a weapon.

Photographs taken of his face the night of the incident show no marks or bruises, and investigators didn't find any weapon at the scene other than Siskos' pistol.

Bell's opening statement Monday echoed the case she made during that hearing.

Siskos was happily married in 1997 and working as a corrections officer at the Sumter Correctional Institution when a cinder block — set as a booby trap — fell on his head. He hasn't worked since and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He separated from his wife and would later reconnect with Kim Kasbach, an old friend who told him she had separated from her husband and was trying to stay away from drugs.

She moved in with Siskos at his home on Drummond Avenue, less than a half-mile from the house on Ligonier. On the day of the shooting, Bell said, Siskos expected Kasbach to be home about midday, but she never showed up.

"William loved Kim so much, he wanted to protect her," Bell said. Then he found himself forced to protect himself. "And he did."

Much of what he said during last month's hearing differed from what he told authorities the night of the shooting. The stress disorder, Bell asserted, had distorted his memory back then.

Siskos is also charged with carrying a concealed weapon and aggravated assault. If convicted of the murder charge, he faces a minimum of 25 years of prison. The trial is slated to resume this morning.

Reach Tony Marrero at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Whether shooting was in self-defense is issue in Hernando County murder trial 06/11/12 [Last modified: Monday, June 11, 2012 11:44pm]

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