Pasco man found guilty in murder of 94-year-old woman
NEW PORT RICHEY -
A Pasco jury took five hours Friday to find John Sexton Jr. guilty of first-degree murder for the grisly slaying of an elderly woman who hired him to mow her lawn.
Wearing a grey suit and leg shackles, Sexton faced the jury as each member confirmed the verdict. He showed no emotion.
Circuit Judge Mary Handsel sent the jurors home for the weekend, ordering them not to discuss the trial. The penalty phase starts Tuesday.
The state is seeking the death penalty against Sexton, 49, for the rape and murder of 94-year-old Ann Parlato on Sept. 22, 2010. The Port Richey woman was brutally beaten at her home. She was raped with an object and her body was mutilated and set afire.
Assistant State Attorney Michael Halkitis said Sexton hated Parlato. “You don’t hit a 94-year-old lady that many times unless you want to kill her,” he said.
The evidence was compelling and abundant.
Police quickly closed in on Sexton, the victim’s yard man, after her body was discovered the following day, nude and covered with a sheet. Three neighbors testified they had seen him through the kitchen window the night of the murder and recognized him. Police found knives in the kitchen sink, along with a white ceramic vase that was used to bludgeon the woman beyond recognition.
Another witness noticed his truck parked in Parlato’s driveway and wrote down his license tag number.
Finally, when detectives arrived at Sexton's Port Richey home, about a mile away from the murder scene, they found him wearing a gray USF T-shirt, khaki shorts and flip flops. The shirt and shorts were stained with Parlato’s blood. A pair of Sexton's work boots found inside his home was also drenched in blood.
They found Parlato’s DNA under Sexton’s fingernails and cuticles.
“The person who committed this crime is capable of disastrous stupidity,” Halkitis said. “He was literally covered in her DNA.”
Police also found a cigarette butt with Sexton’s DNA in Parlato’s trash.
Sexton never took the stand.
Defense attorney Dustin Anderson offered numerous explanations in an effort to create reasonable doubt. He speculated that Sexton tossed the cigarette butt in Parlato’s yard while he was mowing the grass, and that the victim herself picked it up and threw it away.
The police couldn’t prove the DNA under Sexton’s fingernails came from blood. “He could have very easily shook her hand,” he said, “or picked her up if she fell - we heard testimony she was prone to fall - and got her DNA on him.”
Anderson also accused the police of mishandling evidence and attempting to conceal the fact that a fingerprint analyst initially found evidence inconclusive – only later to change her report.
“She covered her original findings with white-out,” Anderson said. “Why? Because they aren’t confident in the evidence they had.”
He pointed to a knife that was found on the floor next to Parlato’s body. Forensics experts found traces of DNA on the handle belonging to neither Sexton nor Parlato.
“We know two things,” he said. “That person was a man, and that person was not John Sexton. Simply put, the murderer used that knife. And simply put, the murderer is not John Sexton.”
The jury of eight men and four women began deliberations at noon and paused only long enough to be escorted outside for a smoke break. They will return Tuesday for the sentencing phase of the trial.
Catherine Sexton, who testified for the defense, will ask the jury to spare her husband’s life. She said she still loves him and believes he is innocent.
A Pasco jury has not issued a death sentence since 2011.