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2nd Trial Gets Under Way In Runaway's Slaying

By DAVID SOMMER, The Tampa Tribune
Published: March 10, 2008 Updated: May 29, 2013 at 09:49 AM
NEW PORT RICHEY - Prosecutors are set to take another shot at resolving the 2002 slaying of a 16-year-old runaway, with jury selection scheduled for today in the first-degree murder case against Phillup Alan Partin.Partin was arrested in North Carolina and extradited to Florida more than a year after Joshan Ashbrook's slashed and beaten body was found in woods off Shady Hills Road by an electric company crew on Aug. 1, 2002.The case has stalled repeatedly as replacement defense lawyers were appointed. A jury heard the prosecution's evidence in October, but Circuit Judge William R. Webb was forced to declare a mistrial after both sides learned details about a bloodstain found on a roadway near Ashbrook's body.Defense lawyers Bill Bennett and Bjorn Brunvand are hoping that bloodstain, together with tire tracks, the testimony of a recalcitrant Texas trucker and that of a former Illinois police officer, will convince a new panel of jurors that another man may have killed Ashbrook.Bennett, who has handled numerous murder cases, said last week that this one is different. Although he will defend just about anyone, because of the victim's age he would not be defending Partin unless he believed in his client's innocence, Bennett said.Partin, known to some by the nickname "Sonny," had been living with his young daughter in a small room in a home owned by a former inmate Partin met years ago while serving time in a Florida prison for second-degree murder.That man, Fred Kaufman, drove a black SUV and co-owned a restaurant cleaning business along with former Illinois police officer John Dykstra, according to court records. Partin drove a maroon pickup, prior testimony indicates.Together with cross-country truck driver Arthur White of Texas, Dykstra could prove pivotal to the defense.A Reluctant WitnessWhite, who has been avoiding process servers seeking to subpoena him to testify at this week's trial, has told investigators that he saw a black or blue SUV drive into the woods off Shady Hills Road in the morning before Ashbrook's body was found.Dykstra, who told lawyers in the case he had no idea Kaufman was a felon when they were business partners, has testified that Kaufman gave a phony excuse to leave work early on the morning of Aug. 1, 2002.Because of the timing and other factors, Dykstra said in a deposition recently unsealed at the request of prosecutors, he thinks Kaufman was either involved in Ashbrook's slaying or in the disposal of her body.However, tire tracks found in the woods leading to Ashbrook's body have been matched by experts to a relatively new set of tires Partin is known to have had on his truck at the time of Ashbrook's murder, according to court records.Partin, who initially was tied to the case through a telephone call Ashbrook made using Partin's cell phone, may have changed the tires on his truck to an older set before the truck was discovered abandoned at a Plant City Wal-Mart after the girl's death, records state.Also, no one disputes that Partin apparently picked up Ashbrook as she hitchhiked along U.S. 19 after running away from home on July 31, 2002.Partin, Ashbrook and his young daughter were later videotaped as they purchased fishing equipment at a Port Richey Wal-Mart, and Partin was ticketed for illegal fishing later that same day.New DNA Tests InconclusiveFurther complicating the case is the bloodstain found on Shady Hills Road near another set of tire tracks the defense contends match the type on Kaufman's SUV.When the judge declared a mistrial in October, is was in part to give a laboratory time to perform advanced DNA testing on the long-ignored stain.That testing has proved inconclusive. Bennett contends that is because investigators botched the case by not having it tested when it was fresh.Other DNA samples already figure prominently in the case. Ashbrook's DNA was found in bloodstains on a rug and on the walls of the room Partin shared with his daughter. Also, a hair containing Partin's DNA was found in a cut on Ashbrook's hand, court records state.The trial is expected to last two weeks if Partin is convicted and prosecutors proceed to seek a death penalty recommendation.