By Emanuella Grinberg
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BARTOW, Florida (Court TV) -- Warned by the judge that tears could trigger a mistrial, a mother was stoic in front of a Florida jury Tuesday as she relived the day she discovered the bloodied bodies of her children.
Nicoletta Dosso was the first person to come upon the bloody crime scene where her children, Frank Dosso, 35, and Diane Patisso, 28, were shot to death.
In the same office where her son lay dead in a pool of blood from gunshot wounds to the head, Nicoletta Dosso also discovered her daughter's husband, George Patisso, 26, slumped against the body of 68-year-old George Gonsalves, her husband's business partner.
Dressed from head to toe in black, the grieving mother had barely taken her seat in the witness box Tuesday before she began stifling sobs while family members and friends sat red-eyed in the gallery holding tissue boxes.
The emotional display prompted a swift response from lawyers representing the defendant, Nelson Serrano, who faces the death penalty if convicted of four counts of first-degree murder.
"Mrs. Dosso's role in this case is more emotional than any witness identification situation I can imagine," defense lawyer Robert Norgard told the court after the jury was quickly rushed out of the room. "If she breaks down in front of the jury, we will ask for a mistrial."
Fears of juror bias
Circuit Judge Susan Roberts agreed that an emotional display would unfairly bias the jurors against the defendant, and issued a stern warning to the prosecutor and, indirectly, to the witness and her family.
"If she gets emotional, I will grant a motion for a mistrial," Roberts said, eliciting emphatic headshakes from Dosso's friends and family. "If [the prosecutor] wants to put her on the stand with that in mind, he may do so."
In a compromise, both sides agreed to let the witness give her testimony outside the presence of the jury and then play a video of the testimony for the jury if it was deemed "unemotional" enough.
As a result, the Sicilian-born mother of three offered a sanitized version of the events that took place on December 3, 1997.
Nicoletta Dosso said she and her husband were supposed to go to their son's home that evening for coffee and cake to celebrate his twin daughters' 10th birthday.
At about 6 p.m., Frank Dosso's wife called to say he had not returned home.
They went to look for him at the Bartow office of Erie Manufacturing and Garment Conveyor Systems, where Frank Dosso worked for his father's business. Nicoletta was the first to come upon her daughter's body, lying in a pool of blood.
'My God, what did they do?'
"I went down and I said, 'My God what they do? I don't know who did this to you, Diane,'" the witness said in an Italian accent.
As she continued through the offices, she saw George Gonsalves' foot sticking out of her son's office, and discovered the bodies of the three other men inside.
"I wanted to hug [Frank], but I could not. I did not want to touch the dead," she said, her voice restrained. "I don't want to spoil. I knew that was even worse for me to do."
The widow of Frank Dosso received the same cautionary instructions about her composure before she did her own run through outside the presence of the jury.
Maria Dosso Jacoby testified that she and her three daughters waited for Frank Dosso to return home that night with Chinese take-out.
Anxious for an answer, she left her three daughters at home with a friend and drove to Erie's offices with George Gonsalves' wife, Inocencia.
"There was already crime-scene tape, there was an ambulance," testified Maria Dosso Jacoby, who has remarried since her husband's death.
"Did your husbands have any enemies or people that might want to injure him?" assistant state attorney John Aguero asked Jacoby.
"No," Jacoby said, without betraying any emotion.
Polk County prosecutors contend that Serrano, 67, went to Erie Manufacturing to kill Gonsalves, who had removed Serrano from his position as president of Garment Conveyor Systems and cut his salary. He killed the others, they say, so there would be no witnesses. (Full coverage)
Serrano's lawyers claim evidence places their client in Atlanta the day of the shootings. They also point to a lack of forensic evidence linking the Ecuadorian native to the crime scene.
Earlier Tuesday, several Erie employees testified about the acrimonious relationship between Serrano and his partners, Gonsalves and Phil Dosso, the husband of Nicoletta Dosso and the father of Frank and Diane.
Before Serrano left the company in July 1997, former employee Todd White testified Tuesday that Serrano asked him to leave Erie and join him in a new company he was starting.
"I told him I wasn't comfortable leaving, and at that point he proceeded to become very disgruntled and very upset," testified White, who left Erie in 1999. "He kept saying things like, 'If you choose not to, I think you'll be sorry, because I plan to see this company fail. I guarantee you this company will fail.'"
Phil Dosso is expected to testify Wednesday and provide further details of the turmoil between the partners that preceded Serrano's departure six months before the shootings.