As John Graziano lay suffering from a catastrophic brain injury inside the Tampa VA hospital, his father was plotting in the same building to kill his mother, according to court records.
Edward Graziano twice asked a cafe worker at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital if he would kill Debra Graziano. In the hospital parking lot, he placed a tracking device in her car. He also hired a private investigator to follow her.
In a secretly recorded conversation at the hospital, Graziano said, "I mean yes it would be nice to f - - - - - - kill her (laughter). Well I don't know if I wanna f - - - - - - leave my kids motherless."
These allegations are included in court records related to the solicitation-for-murder case against Graziano, 53, whose son John was injured a highly publicized 2007 accident involving Hulk Hogan's son. Authorities say Graziano paid $1,100 in cash, gave a personal check for $1,000 and a gift card to Westshore Pizza for $13.06 in exchange for the hit.
Graziano eventually developed a plan to arrange a fatal accident for his wife on State Road 60 near Yeehaw Junction in east central Florida. Ironically, the accident in downtown Clearwater that left his son in need of lifelong care also was on State Road 60.
The records reviewed by the St. Petersburg Times are expected to be formally released today. They include several transcripts of recordings between Graziano and an informant for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. They met at many locations.
The documents paint a portrait of a conflicted would-be killer.
"He would say things like … 'I wish someone would kill her and then there would be no problems. I wouldn't have any problems anymore. I'll take care of my own son," Randy Mowers, the former cafe worker, told a detective.
Mowers said Graziano twice offered him $5,000 to kill her.
But Graziano also told the informant on Feb. 20, "It's just not the right f - - - - - - thing to do."
Four days later, Graziano told him, "I don't know if I can handle this mentally."
"Well so you wanna forget about it?" the informant says.
"No, I don't wanna forget about it but, um, I just think like I said (I'm) better just not knowing about it."
Graziano had hired a private investigator named Jeffrey Wilson to see if Debra was having an affair. But he eventually started asking Wilson if he knew any "unscrupulous type people," because he wanted someone to kill his wife, Wilson said later.
Wilson became an informant for the Sheriff's Office, secretly recording conversations. In the transcripts, the plans at first seem vague and half-baked.
But later, according to the transcripts, Graziano came up with the idea of an accident on State Road 60 because it's a dangerous highway and therefore, "a wonderful place to have a f - - - - - - accident." He envisions someone could "ride along somebody in a passing lane and have someone go into an 18-wheeler."
He was troubled by a complication: Wouldn't people be suspicious when he decided not to sue someone for that accident?
He also worried about getting caught, about whether the plot was a sting operation and even about Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea. "These f - - - - - - Hogans got people watching me."
Case of entrapment?
Graziano's attorney, John Trevena, said the transcripts show the confidential informant was the one who came up with the idea of the killing, and that Graziano was merely playing along to see who was trying to set him up.
He said it's bizarre that a man hired by Graziano as a private investigator also became a paid confidential informant. Trevena said he considers it a case of entrapment, and does not believe Graziano actually ever intended to kill his wife.
Wilson, posing as a man who would help Graziano, said more than once that they could call off the hit. But at one point, when Graziano talked about the State Road 60 idea, Wilson said, "I think it's a good opportunity …that's a scary road man."
Although the Grazianos are suing the Bollea family over the accident, a case that could produce a large verdict, Graziano never explicitly gives a reason for wanting to kill his wife, Debra. He does say he's frustrated because she's "pretty much in control of every f - - - - - - thing."
If she were to die, Graziano mused to Wilson, "I would get the guardianship," of his son. "And then I would be in control of everything."
But seconds later, he says, "It would cause me more problems of anything because then I don't have her to take care of him."
Years of rage, abuse
The murder-for-hire plot followed years of alleged abuse. Court records paint a picture of a man prone to bursts of rage. Debra Graziano repeatedly petitioned the court for restraining orders, alleging Edward punched her, kicked her, cursed her and put a knife to her throat. He threatened to shoot her, then kill himself, she said.
In the transcripts of the murder-for-hire case, Graziano says at one point: "We're taking a big, big chance 'cause if you know my kids ever found out about it."
He also worried about getting caught and being sent to prison.
To the informant who was pretending to arrange for the murder, he said: "I don't even wanna end up in f - - - - - - jail for, say, f - - - - - - 6 years, I'll come out and kill all of yas."