The nervous girl said her father had been with a runaway teen who was found dead.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published October 4, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Dressed in pink, golden bangs hanging down to her eyes, Patrisha Windham told the jury about the last time she saw her father.
It was five years ago.
She was just 7.
"He said that he loved me and that he would come back and get me as soon as he got back from where he was going," said Patrisha, now 12.
"Did you ever see your father again?" asked Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis.
"No," said the little girl, softly.
Not until Wednesday, when the nervous child testified against her father at his murder trial.
Phillup Alan Partin, 42, could face the death penalty if convicted of beating and strangling 16-year-old runaway Joshan Ashbrook in 2002.
Wal-Mart surveillance cameras caught Partin, his daughter and the victim together at the Port Richey superstore on July 31, 2002, the day before Ashbrook's bloody, beaten body was found off Shady Hills Road.
Days later, the state says Partin dropped his daughter off at the Wachulla home of a former foster parent before fleeing Florida.
At a deposition last year, the girl said all three spent that July 31 day fishing. That night, her father left to take the victim - who she knew as "Joanna" - home.
But that's not what she said in court Wednesday.
"Do you remember your dad leaving with her?" Halkitis asked.
"No," the girl said.
It was a confusing and emotional Day 3 of the Partin trial, one that ended with the judge berating the defendant for trying to signal the daughter he abandoned when he went on the run years ago.
Patrisha Windham told the jury she met Ashbrook that day and told the jury she had known the victim much longer than that. Her answers depended on who was doing the asking, the prosecution or defense.
She testified that the last time she saw Ashbrook: "She said she was gonna walk home."
Halkitis tried to walk the child through her original testimony last year, when she said that her father left with the victim and returned alone.
"You told us you remember dad and Joanna left and your dad didn't come back with her," the prosecutor said, "Was that the truth?"
"Yes," the girl said.
Then Circuit Judge William Webb interrupted the testimony and sent the jury out of the courtroom.
"I just observed your client giving hand signals to the witness," the judge told the defense attorneys. "He's going to stop it and stop it immediately."
Apparently Partin had been flashing sign language for "I love you" to the daughter he hadn't seen in years. His thumb, index and pinkie fingers were outstretched; his middle and ring fingers folded against his palm.
It was the first time he had broken his usual stoicism throughout the trial.
The jury was brought back in. Now it was defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand's turn.
"Patrisha, you just testified to the jury that Joanna walked home that night," he said, "was that also the truth?"
"Yes," the girl said.
Halkitis let it go, choosing not to question the child yet again.
Outside the courtroom, the girl broke into tears.
After Ashbrook's death, it took authorities 15 months to build a case against Partin and capture him in North Carolina.
Day three of his trial focused on his actions after Ashbrook's death: Partin disappearing from Pasco after just days on a new job; abandoning his pickup in Plant City; and abandoning his 7-year-old at the home of an ex-foster mother, Jean Prestridge.
The girl had no suitcase, just the clothes on her back. Prestridge testified that Partin asked her for money. He was "nervous" and "crying." He told her not to ask questions, and never to speak of this to anyone.
She gave him $200.
"He said a million wouldn't be enough," Prestridge testified.
Jamal Thalji can be reached (727) 869-6236 or firstname.lastname@example.org