NEW PORT RICHEY — One brother, a convicted rapist and registered sexual predator, stared across the courtroom at the other, a convicted felon with a long history of crimes — but nothing like this one. Prosecutors say Francis Sicola, 28, shot and killed Joe Wido, an 82-year-old World War II hero, during a home invasion burglary.
Christopher Sicola, 33, clearly uncomfortable in his role as the state's star witness, cleared his raspy throat on Tuesday, sipped bottled water and whispered into a microphone the words he said his brother told him in the wee hours of Aug. 28, 2008: "I just killed a n-----.''
Francis isn't a racist, his older brother insisted. He just used that word.
The brothers had been close up to then, Christopher said, often riding motorcycles together. On Aug. 27, they rode around western Pasco County in a white pickup truck. Francis was agitated. He had ingested several prescription painkillers. He needed money to get home to North Carolina.
"He wanted to steal stuff,'' Christopher said. "I thought that meant breaking into some cars … steal some money. He said break in to homes. I didn't want nothing to do with that.''
Christopher said Francis had with him a backpack with gloves, bandannas, duct tape and a small-caliber pistol. He said he dropped his brother off in the area of the Bear Creek subdivision with this warning: "Please don't do anything stupid.''
About 11 p.m., Francis crept up to the back of a home in Bear Creek, just south of State Road 52. Erma Mack, now 76, heard a noise, turned on a porch light and opened some blinds. A man dressed in black and wearing a black mask had cut the screen and stood a foot away.
"I screamed to my husband, 'Bill get up! There's a prowler on the porch! Get your shotgun!' '' Mrs. Mack testified.
She called 911 and William Mack ran outside as the burglar ran off — dropping his black ski mask.
Francis Sicola wasn't done. Prosecutors say he made his way a little more than a mile south, to the manicured, quiet Timber Oaks subdivision, to the home on a golf course where Joe and Bobbe Wido had retired 20 years earlier. The intruder cut the screen and at about 2 a.m. entered the house. Joe Wido, who had earned the Bronze Star during combat with Nazis in World War II, confronted him. A bullet just below his chest cut him down. The intruder bound Wido's wife of 59 years, Bobbe, with duct tape and ransacked the house, stealing jewelry.
Christopher Sicola said he had communicated with Francis by cell phone and drove to pick him up near Timber Oaks. Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis asked Christopher what his brother said when he asked if he had shot Joe Wido.
"Yes,'' the older brother swore.
Assistant Public Defender Dean Livermore made sure the jury knew Christopher had been convicted of three felonies. In 1995 in Pinellas County, he and two other teenagers raped a 16-year-old girl who had passed out drunk on the floor of her parents' house.
After the Wido murder, Francis fled to his home in Yadkinville, N.C., near Winston-Salem. Detectives used DNA from the ski mask he dropped at the first burglary attempt and incriminating statements from family members to track him down. He was convicted last year of the first burglary and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
While waiting extradition from North Carolina, he wrote his brother a letter that prosecutor Halkitis read for the jury.
"Without (your) statement,'' he wrote, "they have no case against me.''
"This jail doesn't open my outgoing mail,'' Francis wrote, oblivious that his letter could be used to condemn him. He begged his brother to change his story, to say he lied. Contempt and obstruction is "peanuts compared to murder,'' he wrote.
"Burn this letter after you memorize it. My life is in your hands.''
Bobbe Wido died in September at age 81. One of her two daughters watched the testimony and took notes on Tuesday. Erma Mack, the woman whose screams had thwarted the first burglary, approached her after testifying.
"It could have been me,'' Mack said.
Closing arguments are expected today. If convicted of first-degree felony murder, Sicola would face life in prison.