NEW PORT RICHEY — Brian Fickes answered the door with a mop in his hand, and the deputy smelled bleach.
Have you seen Kim Cox lately? the deputy asked. He went fishing, Fickes said, according to the deputy's testimony.
It was May 24, 2011, and no one had seen or heard from Cox, 69, since May 20 when he bought a bottle of brandy from Walmart.
On Tuesday, Fickes was in court on trial charged with Cox's murder.
"This defendant committed premeditated (homicide) by shooting (Cox) three times in back of head and neck and one time in the forehead," Assistant State Attorney Bryan Sarabia said, "and then he spent four days making excuses and covering it up."
A neighbor said Fickes talked Cox into letting him stay for one night — and then never left.
The deputy left Cox's house in Hudson that day, and a friend came by looking for him the next. In fact, many friends stopped by. They'd never gone so long without hearing from the Country Club Estates retiree.
The deputy came back around 9 p.m., and a woman named Ashley Paquette, who identified herself as Fickes' girlfriend, let the deputy in. He smelled something familiar, something he'd encountered in his line of work before.
"It was a foul odor," Pasco sheriff's Deputy Jose Valenzuela testified. "Decomposition. Something was decomposing."
A pile of garbage seeped in the floor of the garage of the small family home, covered by a yellow blanket, white sheets, door mats and a deflated air mattress.
"Are you sure there's not a dead body underneath the garbage?" Valenzuela asked. Fickes said "of course not."
"Then, I see a human hand sticking out of the pile," Valenzuela said. "I immediately turned around and asked Mr. Fickes, 'How long has he been there?' He says four days. Just by the look in his eye, he had a blank look, I pulled out my weapon and pointed it at him and told him to get on his knees and put his hands behind his back."
Paquette screamed, "Why did you do this?" and "Oh my God, I didn't know!" over and over again, according to the deputy.
"I told you, he kept screwing with me," Fickes told her.
In the days before the discovery, Fickes drove around in Cox's 1997 Dodge Ram van, talked on Cox's cellphone, sat on Cox's chair outside — a metal one by the garage door, and ate fast food while he drove Paquette around, according to Paquette's father.
Fickes' court appointed attorney, Anne Borghetti, reserved her opening statement in the trial until the state rests its case. Prosecutors called forensic experts, family members, a man who saw Fickes disposing of trash and a woman who saw him buy bleach. Investigators found Cox's .22 caliber rifle underneath a sofa where Fickes slept in a sunroom in the house. A guest room — Cox's office — was bare and reeked of bleach. Investigators found blood stains in the carpet padding and a trail leading to the garage.
Fickes' attorney filed a motion to dismiss the case citing Florida's "stand your ground" statute. Circuit Judge William Webb denied it. In court documents, Fickes claimed Cox pointed "what Mr. Fickes believed was a gun" at his head.
The trial continues today.