Visco Wins his Freedom from Jail Cell a Judge Granted Bond for the Elderly Deltona Man, who Will Likley be Released Today

By Sean Mussenden, Beth Kassab and Amy C. Rippel of The Sentinel Staff
Posted January 5, 2001

DELAND -- Leo Visco is going home today, but he can't leave the house.

In a DeLand courtroom packed Thursday with Visco's teary-eyed family and neighbors, Circuit Court Judge C. McFerrin Smith set the stage for the 80-year-old man's release from the county jail, with the equity in his house as collateral. Visco will remain under house arrest.

The Deltona man has been jailed since Dec. 26, after admitting he killed his wife, Eva Visco, in an apparent act of mercy that one expert on Thursday called an assisted suicide.

" It's a victory for Leo," exclaimed Eva Visco's son, Mike Bono of Deltona, who testified at Thursday's hearing, asking for the release of the man charged with killing his mother.

During the hourlong trial, Visco sat stoically in his orange jail suit as a parade of witnesses testified to his devotion toward his wife of 24 years.

Visco, his hands shackled, managed a slight wave to relieved family members, who blew kisses as he was escorted back to the jail until his release.

That's likely to happen today after the necessary paperwork is completed, said his Orlando attorney Mark NeJame.

Kathleen Flammia, vice president of the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the decision to grant bond was a strange turn of events -- she's never had a client charged with first-degree murder get it -- but not unexpected in such an unusual case.

Visco was helped by the fact that he is elderly, a longtime resident and is not likely to flee or harm anyone else, Flammia said. What's more, he had friends and relatives vouching for his character.

At Thursday's hearing, NeJame called an expert who suggested that Eva Visco's death was an assisted suicide rather than a mercy killing. NeJame said that's a legal distinction that could mean the difference between a first-degree murder charge and manslaughter.

Donna Cohen, a University of South Florida professor and an expert in mercy killings and murder-suicide pacts, said Leo Visco fits the classic profile of an elderly man who helped his wife commit suicide.

She said assisted-suicide cases involve people who ask for assistance in dying, though the victim of a mercy killing does not ask to be killed.

Cohen said that, according to the Viscos' family and friends, Eva Visco asked her husband to kill her overnight while she slept, but he couldn't do it. When she woke up, she wasn't angry but repeated her request and returned to bed.

Prosecutors haven't decided yet whether they will follow through on a first-degree murder charge or pursue a lesser charge.

" We're considering all the options," said Assistant State's Attorney Raul Zambrano, who opposed Visco's release primarily because of concerns that Visco might try to kill himself.

Steve Bronis, a noted attorney in Miami, said Visco's circumstances and his impending release on bond are strong indicators that the State Attorney's Office won't pursue a first-degree murder charge.

"A reasonable prosecutor would never seek the death penalty or a charge of first-degree murder under those circumstances, " he said.

Bono offered graphic details of his mother's ailments Thursday, describing how Visco helped change her catheter, bathe her and dress her.

Bono said Eva Visco had poor circulation in her legs, which caused sores on her feet. She couldn't put on her shoes, and her left foot was twisted to a 90-degree angle.

"She just felt embarrassed she couldn't put on a pair of shoes if they wanted to go someplace," he said. "She was full of pain. She just couldn't take the pain. "

Bono said his mother had talked with him of wanting to die on several occasions.

"We'd get her back to her senses," he said.

An autopsy found that Eva Visco did not have any life-threatening conditions, though she was taking pain medication.

Bond was set at $40,000, an amount almost equal to the equity in Visco's modest home. Smith allowed Visco to use the equity to post bond directly with the county rather than use the more traditional route of hiring a bail-bond company.

"There's no estate," NeJame said. "They've got a small house, some furniture and a car. "

Smith set several conditions for Visco's release. He will be under house arrest with electronic monitoring. He cannot leave except for court-ordered purposes, and he must get a mental-health evaluation within a week of his release.
Smith left the door open for Visco's return to jail if a grand jury indicts him on first-degree murder charges.

While Visco is out, it is unclear whether he will attend a planned memorial service for his slain wife.

Eva Visco's remains were cremated last weekend, and family members said earlier this week that a private service would be held at a relative's house in Leesburg.

They would not say whether the service would be moved to accommodate Visco's house arrest.

"If it includes Leo or not, he will totally understand," said Eva Visco's daughter-in-law, Darcy Bono.

At Thursday's bond hearing, relatives of both Eva and Leo Visco were out in force, hoping, and in some cases, testifying for Leo Visco's release.

"I know what my dad did was wrong but I have asked God to forgive him," wrote Leo Visco's daughter Debbie Hostetler, in a letter presented as evidence. "I am asking the courts for the same kind of mercy."

After the trial, Bono and others hugged and cried.

"V for victory," Bono said. "V for Visco."

Source: Orlando Sentinel