LAND O'LAKES — She waited five hours at the Polk County Jail to see the man she loved, but a few hours meant nothing compared with the time without him; two years, 78 days, going on 79 as the clock passed midnight. At 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, he was there and it was done. For good.
"Come on," Kathleen Linn, 51, said to her fiance, Clayton Fivecoat, 69. "We're going home."
They drove an hour and a half. He talked about wanting a steak but wasn't hungry when they got there. He hugged his dog and slept in his bed. For little more than a day, Fivecoat was free.
Then he died.
• • •
Fivecoat was arrested Jan. 31, 2008, accused of murdering his friend's ex-wife two decades earlier.
Loma Brace, 49, had been bludgeoned and strangled in her Lakeland apartment. Her second husband, Bud Brace, was a prominent Pasco developer worth millions of dollars. When the couple divorced in January 1987, a judge ordered joint ownership of the properties — but Loma Brace discovered her husband had an employee forge her signature deeding ownership of some of their most expensive property solely to himself.
When Loma's body was found Feb. 2, 1987, her ex-husband was a suspect. So was Fivecoat, who had seen her the night before, but told authorities she was alive when he left.
Bud Brace was known for getting people to do what he wanted. Authorities believed he talked Fivecoat into murdering his ex-wife.
But Fivecoat, a Pasco County Sheriff's Office mechanic who had never been arrested before in Florida, maintained his innocence. He never stopped talking to detectives — much to his lawyer's dismay. Pete Mills, assistant public defender, said from 1987 until 2008, Fivecoat willingly talked with authorities 10 times, even after he was indicted for first degree murder.
"He said he had nothing to hide," Mills said.
In January 2008, Fivecoat was indicted for Loma Brace's death. He and Bud Brace were also charged with perjury, accused of lying under oath to a grand jury handling the cold case.
The perjury charge sent Bud Brace to prison for 15 years, but Fivecoat fought the murder charge. Mills said Fivecoat's DNA wasn't found on the body or anywhere in the house – although male DNA was found in an ashtray.
That stranger's DNA wasn't a match for Fivecoat or Bud Brace. Mills argued that Loma Brace could have been the victim of a violent break-in.
• • •
Fivecoat didn't fare well in jail while he awaited trial. Even with his diabetes, high blood pressure and replaced hip and knee he was a man who needed to move, to work. He dropped out of school in the 9th grade and taught himself how to fix cars, to work with wood, to fix things. Linn said he didn't like sitting still, but he didn't complain. When she raged against the prosecutor, at what was happening to Fivecoat, he told her to be nice. "They're just doing their job," he said. "They just have the wrong man."
Another inmate was an artist so Fivecoat would get him to draw lovely cards for Linn on her birthday and at Christmas. He got a tattoo — his first — on his chest, above his heart, with Linn's name and angel wings. Linn, who has been with Fivecoat since 1996, was touched but scolded him, fearing he would get an infection.
Fivecoat's trial began in January. It ended Feb. 3 with a hung jury — seven voted guilty, five not guilty. Prosecutors decided to try again. Fivecoat's retrial began last week. But Mills said prosecutors played portions of Fivecoat's 2007 federal grand jury testimony that jurors were not supposed to hear. Mills filed a motion for mistrial.
Over the weekend, the prosecution offered a deal: perjury charges dropped, first degree murder lessened to conspiring to commit aggravated battery. He would be released on time served — almost 27 months.
This was not the first plea deal Fivecoat was offered, Mills said.
"Mr. Fivecoat always wanted a trial," Mills said. "He maintained his innocence."
But he agreed to take this one.
• • •
On Monday morning, they finalized the deal in court. Less than 24 hours later, he was home in the pink stone house off a sandy road in Land O'Lakes he bought just before his arrest, when he planned to work a few more years then retire. On Tuesday, he puttered about the property, talking about projects — painting the house, remodeling the kitchen. That night, they ate pork chops, mashed potatoes and green beans.
"The green beans taste real," he told Linn. He had gotten so used to jail meals, Linn didn't use spices. She wanted to ease his stomach back in to regular food.
They laid in bed for hours, in the dark, just catching up. He wanted to know how friends were doing. They talked of the future, of not thinking about the ugliness of these past years.
"Let's go on a trip," he said. They didn't know where they were going — just out of Pasco, out of Polk, the two of them.
"Do you still want to marry me after all of this?" he said. "I'm a convict now."
"Yes," she said. "Of course." If she suspected he could have done this to his friend, she would have left a long time ago.
"You didn't do what they accused you of doing," she said.
She fell asleep at 4 a.m. Wednesday.
When she woke six hours later Fivecoat wasn't next to her anymore. She got out of bed.
He was on the hallway floor, between the bathroom and the kitchen. He was cold. She called 911. There wasn't anything she could do. The Pasco Sheriff's Office is investigating. Foul play is not suspected.
Fivecoat had a gash above his eye. The shower was still wet and he was in a towel. Linn thinks maybe he slipped on the tile. He wasn't used to tile yet.
She held him and wiped his face as she waited for the paramedics. She waited so long and only had him for little more than a day.
"It's not fair," she said, then stopped herself. She can't allow herself to think about that, to go to that dark place, because she fears she might not return.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.