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Pasco jury recommends death penalty for brutal 2010 murder

NEW PORT RICHEY -  A Pasco County jury recommended Tuesday that John Sexton receive the death penalty for the brutal September 2010 murder and mutilation of a 94-year-old Pasco woman.
The jurors found Sexton guilty of first-degree murder last month in the death of Ann Parlato of Port Richey. Ten of the 12 jurors recommended a sentence of death after deliberating for one and a half hours.
Circuit Judge Mary Handsel will have a hearing Aug. 2 to make a final decision on Sexton's sentence. The jury's decision is only a recommendation for sentencing.
“The punishment for what he did on Sept. 23, 2010, should be death,” assistant state attorney Michael Halkitis said as he ended his closing argument Tuesday morning.
Sexton, 49, did not testify during the trial.
A Pasco County jury had not rendered a death sentence since 2011 when it was recommended for Derral Wayne Hodgkins. He strangled and stabbed to death Teresa Lodge of Land O' Lakes in 2006.
Parlato was raped, beaten and mutilated inside her 8025 Colrain Drive home. She also was partially burned.
After Parlato's body was discovered the following day, police quickly closed in on Sexton, the victim's yard man.
Several prosecution witnesses, including forensic investigators, said a T-shirt, khaki shorts and work boots belonging to Sexton were stained with Parlato's blood.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement senior crime lab analyst testified bloody shoe prints found on Parlato's floor matched Sexton's work boots.
A cigarette butt, matching the type of cigarette Sexton smoked, was found in Parlato's trash. Cigarette ashes were also found throughout the house, deemed out of character for a woman described as adamantly against smoking due to her asthma, witnesses testified.
Parlato's next door neighbors reported hearing a loud thud in the early morning hours of Sept. 23, 2010. They went outside to investigate and found Sexton's Dodge pickup backed into Parlato's driveway. Moments later, they said he appeared in her kitchen window washing something in the kitchen sink.
Parlato's nude body, covered by a sheet, was found on the floor near her front door by close friend Dori Cifelli that day.
The team of lawyers appointed to defend Sexton argued several points during the two-day penalty phase in an attempt to spare him from the death penalty. They contended Sexton had battled mental health issues for a good portion of his life, partially because of an exposure to toxic chemicals through work, and claimed he was the product of a violent home life as a child.
A psychologist and psychiatrist hired by the defense classified Sexton as bipolar. The defense also argued he was exposed to domestic violence and alcoholism at an early age through his parents.
Defense attorney Byron Hileman described the jury's job as “one that is very solemn, one that should not be based on emotion or anger or vengeance. It should be based upon your very best effort to apply the law of Florida and the United States as best you can.”
Hileman also argued Parlato's suffering was minimal because there was no definitive evidence of when she lost consciousness as she was beaten.
“This lady's suffering was brief,” Hileman said.
Jeri Barr, Parlato's niece and goddaughter, said she was relieved the trial and the penalty phase had finally come to an end.
She said she planed to visit her aunt's grave Tuesday and then drive back to New York.
“I'm very pleased with the jury's recommendation,” Barr said. “I think it was an excellent trial, excellent prosecutors. The defense did what they could, but really I am so happy that justice is finally served in the name of my aunt, Ann Parlato.”
Cifelli was Parlato's caregiver and close friend. “Ann liked John Sexton. She appreciated him,” Cifelli said. “And for her to go through (this) and for him to come in the door and start beating her, that's a betrayal of trust and that hurt just as much as the physical thing that was going on.”
Moments after the jury's recommendation, Barr and Cifelli walked across the courtroom and spoke to Sexton's wife, Catherine.
“I think she's going to have to reflect on what her life was to this point and where she's going to have to take it,” said Barr, who along with Cifelli, attended each day of the trial and the penalty phase. “She's a student, I understand; an intelligent lady. Sometimes you make wrong choices and I think this will hopefully help her make some right choices for herself in the future. I wish her well.”

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