CROSS CITY — With hatred in his heart and a pistol in his belt, John Kalisz rolled into a remote U.S. 19 gas station here 13 months ago.
Minutes later, Kalisz lay bleeding near a gas pump, and Dixie County Sheriff's Office Capt. Chad Reed was shot, hit in the mouth by a single round fired through Kalisz's driver-side window. Reed died later that evening.
On Thursday, the 56-year-old former roofer limped into a rural courthouse about 200 yards from the crime scene and admitted that he had killed Reed on Jan. 14, 2010, after fleeing Hernando County, where he is accused of shooting four women, killing two.
Dressed in a blue sports coat and with his hands shackled, Kalisz was escorted by authorities into the courtroom. Reed's fellow Dixie County deputies and Sheriff Dewey Hatcher Sr. glared at him as he shuffled by.
Looking haggard and pale, Kalisz sat behind the defense table and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and agreed to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Reed's wife of 12 years, Holly Reed, was in court to see her husband's killer face justice.
"I stand here today out of love, honor and respect for my husband," Mrs. Reed, through tears, told the court. "Our world was forever changed and will never, ever be the same."
As she spoke, Kalisz stared at her, but he never reacted. Even as she told Kalisz she forgave him.
"Perhaps C.J. and Caden suffered the ultimate sacrifice," she said of her sons. "They'll always feel the loss of not having their dad by their side."
Kalisz's attorney, Bill Salmon, read an apologetic statement from his client. "Words are not enough," he read. "I am so sorry that this tragedy happened."
"He was a great man," he said, referring to Reed.
"My sincere condolences," Kalisz muttered after his attorney finished the statement.
"Only our heavenly father knows whether you are to be saved from damnation for your actions," Circuit Judge James Roy Bean told Kalisz. "By your actions, your murderous act, this community has been devastated."
After the hearing, State Attorney Robert Jarvis said in a statement that he expected to be questioned by law enforcement officials and others who wanted the death penalty, but Jarvis said he honored the family's wishes.
"It is out of respect for him and the wishes of his widow," he said, "that I make the decision to bring this case to conclusion by agreeing not to seek the death penalty."
Earlier this week, Hernando Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said he intended to pursue the death penalty in the slayings in Brooksville regardless of what happened in Dixie.
As part of the plea agreement, Mrs. Reed insisted that she and her sons be allowed to visit Kalisz in prison. The contact, she said, would allow her and the boys to gain final closure. He agreed to the stipulation.
Her faith, Mrs. Reed said, allowed her to forgive her husband's murderer.
"I have been a Christian all my life," she said after the sentencing. "And there is no way I'm going to let him steal my joy."
Two hours before the hearing, Mrs. Reed told the St. Petersburg Times that the family agreed to the plea deal because it would spare them all the pain of a trial.
"It's not going to be torture for him," she said, "it would be torture for us."
Mrs. Reed, 34, said she and her family are still struggling with the loss of her husband.
"I have two little boys who think their dad was a superhero,'' she said, referring to C.J., 10, and Caden, 6.
She said the family is ready to move on. "What I'm dealing with today, as the country song says, this ain't nothing,'' she said, "compared to what we deal with every day.''
On Jan. 14, 2010, officials say Kalisz fled north in his van on U.S. 19 after he shot four women, including his sister and niece, in Brooksville. He faces numerous charges in Hernando County, including two murder counts.
When Dixie County deputies confronted Kalisz at a BP gas station, reports said, he fired a shot out of his driver-side window and hit Reed. Kalisz, reports said, was shot at least six times.
Kalisz was interviewed by investigators in his hospital bed 13 days after the shootings. He told them that hatred toward his family and the judicial system fueled his shooting rampage, records show.
Prosecutors have accused Kalisz of killing his sister, Kathryn Donovan, and her office manager, Deborah Tillotson, in Donovan's home on Wilhelm Road. He also allegedly shot his niece, Manessa Donovan, and Amy Wilson, an employee at Donovan's home-based business.
"It didn't matter, whoever was alive there did not need to be alive there," Kalisz told investigators. "So I kept going until I felt there was nobody else alive there and then I got in my car and left."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1432.