Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Proscecutors: Evidence in Pasco runaway's death is clear

The prosecutor says hair, blood and DNA samples prove Phillup Alan Partin guilty in a girl's slaying.

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
Published October 3, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY -- For 15 months, Phillup Alan Partin played cat and mouse with his pursuers.

They were detectives investigating the 2002 death of Joshan Ashbrook. The 16-year-old runaway's brutalized body was found near Shady Hills Road.

Detectives focused on Partin, who had already done time for strangling a man. Only he refused to cooperate. Partin tried to hide his identity, then fled Florida. Then, out of the blue, he called his pursuers.

"So what do you think you've got on me?" he asked one detective over the phone.

The chase ended in North Carolina in 2003. After his capture, he called a friend from jail. It was taped.

"They will probably kill me for this," Partin said.

Partin, 42, faces the death penalty if convicted of taking this life. To convince a jury he deserves just that, Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis on Tuesday retraced the long trail of evidence that led to Partin.

"The hair embedded in Joshan Ashbrook's thumb is from this defendant, no doubt," Halkitis said. "You'll hear from a number of experts that there's no doubt in their minds that the blood found in the defendant's former bedroom is the DNA of Joshan Ashbrook."

There's more: the surveillance cameras that caught Partin and Ashbrook together at the Port Richey Super Wal-Mart the day before she was found dead; the landlord who saw them together in Partin's room, then later found a blood stain linked to Ashbrook; the tire tracks near the body similar to the off-road tires on Partin's old maroon Ford pickup; and his statements to detectives before and after his arrest.

"I've gone through the scenario a million times," Partin, according to the prosecutor, told detectives after his capture, "am I going to hide out, or am I going to fight it out, shoot it out?"

Partin looked on stone-faced, dressed in jail coveralls. He chose not to wear civilian clothing during the trial, to try and hide his imprisonment from the jury.

Attorney William Bennett delivered the defense's opening. The defense won't contest much of the evidence but told jurors they shouldn't just take the state's word for what that evidence means.

And Bennett told jurors the evidence points to someone other than Partin: his old landlords Fred and Diane Kaufman.

The state says Diane Kaufman saw defendant and victim together in Partin's room the day before Ashbrook's death. After he moved out, the state said they found blood stains obscured by bleach in Partin's old room.

The Kaufmans "we believe, the evidence will suggest, had something to do with the death of Joshan Ashbrook," Bennett said.

Halkitis said he could not comment on the defense's theory during the trial. The Kaufmans could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but as witnesses they cannot discuss the case during the trial.

A videotape of Ashbrook's body was shown to the jury. She lay on her left side, face down, clad only in a tank top pulled all the way to her shoulders.

She had stab wounds to the face, neck and arms, the medical examiner determined, and something had been tightly wrapped around her wrists, ankles and neck. The cause of death: blunt trauma to the head and neck.

Ashbrook's mother, Tara Lynn Ramsdell, dabbed her eyes as the videotape rolled.

Last year she settled a wrongful death lawsuit against the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. The agency was accused of failing to obey a court order to pick up her runaway daughter before she was found dead. Instead, authorities say, Partin found her first.

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