DELAND -- The fate of an elderly Deltona man who said he killed his ailing wife in an act of mercy now rests in the hands of a judge.
Leo Visco pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter for the shooting death of his 74-year-old wife, Eva.
The 81-year-old retiree faces a wide spectrum of possible punishments when he's sentenced next month. He could receive anything from probation to 30 years behind bars.
"I'm prepared for whatever happens," Visco told a crowd of reporters as he walked out of a DeLand courtroom. He returned to the home of friends in Deltona, where he's been under house arrest since the December 2000 shooting.
Visco says his wife had been ill for years, and she begged him to end her life as part of a suicide pact.
On the day after Christmas, Visco fed his wife a breakfast of pancakes and prune juice, laid her on the couple's bed and shot her once in the temple with a .22 caliber revolver, according to an interview with The News-Journal last year.
He said he backed out of taking his own life after realizing Eva was still breathing. She died in a hospital a few hours later, while Visco sat in jail.
An autopsy did not reveal any signs of a terminal illness in Eva Visco.
The guilty plea came as part of a deal between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
The first-degree murder charge against Visco was reduced. And both the prosecution and defense agreed to toss out what are known as sentencing guidelines -- state rules that determine how much or how little time a person can serve in prison.
Under this arrangement, Circuit Judge C. McFerrin Smith can choose to give Visco probation or as many as 30 years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Oct. 30.
Visco's lawyer admitted the deal is something of a gamble.
"It's a risk, and it's something that frightens us all," attorney Mark NeJame said of the prospect of jail time. "Prison and jail would just not be right. We're going to go forward and put our best case together."
Assistant State Attorney Raul Zambrano declined to reveal what kind of sentence he would prefer the judge hand down. But he didn't dismiss the idea of Visco being sent to prison.
"We all agree to the facts of this case," Zambrano said. "He committed a crime."
Many mental health experts believe the Visco case is an example of a growing number of murder-suicide attempts by elderly people.
Some national estimates indicate as many as 2,000 people die in murder-suicides each year. About a quarter of those are older than 55.