CLEARWATER — A U.S. Army major was charged Thursday with first-degree murder, accused of killing his wife's ex-husband, a former 82nd Airborne paratrooper, in a Clearwater condo two years ago.
The victim's family members say they think they know the motive: a child custody dispute.
Roman Izzo, 35, who is stationed at the U.S. Army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was arrested Thursday morning after being indicted by a Pinellas County grand jury Wednesday in the death of Vince Lee.
On Nov. 16, 2011, Lee's body was discovered inside his apartment at Eagle's Glen, a condo complex in the upscale Landmark Drive area of northeast Clearwater. He was 43.
Police have released few details about the killing, only describing Lee's cause of death as "homicidal violence."
But ever since Lee's death, his loved ones say they have suspected Izzo, who was married to Lee's ex-wife.
For two years, Lee's family members have called Clearwater police detectives regularly, often on a weekly basis. Relatives in North Carolina even visited Clearwater last year to speak with detectives. They were afraid Lee's murder would be forgotten, that detectives would move on to a fresher case, that his killer would never be caught.
But on Thursday — Lee's 45th birthday — detectives called to say Izzo was under arrest.
"Finally," said Bob Tuck, Lee's cousin. "We've just been persistent about this. It's been very frustrating at times."
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Police did not disclose a motive Thursday, but Lee's loved ones believe a custody dispute between Lee and his ex-wife, Jodi Pavlica Izzo, that didn't go Izzo's way led to violence.
In 2010, Lee won a decision in a child custody case regarding their two children, who were 7 and 5 the year Lee died. Jodi and Roman Izzo wanted to move the children out of state, but a judge denied the request, Pinellas court records show.
"I know it was that," said Lee's former girlfriend, Gina Silverio, through tears. "He was getting in the way of their plans."
Jodi Izzo could not be reached for comment Thursday. At the time of Lee's death, she was living in Clearwater and Izzo, a veteran of the Iraq war, was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.
After Lee's death, she moved from Florida with the children to be with Izzo, Tuck said. The couple had two other children.
Tuck, who lives in Asheville, N.C., described Lee as a hard-working man who loved his family.
A former paratrooper with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, Lee was an avid golfer who ran marathons. He spent his weekends with Silverio and his children. He sold medical supplies for Vascular Solutions. He had an older son in college.
Days before his death, Lee told Tuck he hoped to buy a house where he and his children could live.
"Vince loved life," Silverio said. "He was always so happy and always made people laugh and that's what I remember most of the time."
News of Izzo's arrest began to swirl at the Eagle's Glen condo complex Thursday. Mike Londrigan, treasurer of the condo board, was friends with Lee.
"He was here at the pool all the time with the kids on the weekend," Londrigan said. "We talked about golf a lot."
The day Lee's body was discovered, some residents approached Londrigan and told him they had heard gunshots the night before.
Silverio, of Winter Garden, works the night shift as a nurse. When she woke up from her nap that day and realized that Lee hadn't been calling and texting as usual, she jumped in her car and raced across the state. When she got to his condo, she opened the garage first, saw his car and then opened the door.
She saw Lee's body and the blood.
Hours later, police cars swarmed the complex and cordoned off Lee's home. A police officer later approached Londrigan. He told him Lee was targeted.
"It was kind of an eerie feeling," Londrigan said. "You just don't expect those kinds of things to happen."
Times staff writer Will Hobson and staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157.