LAND O'LAKES — Convicted killer John Sexton wants you to know he's just a regular guy.
He stressed this with cuffed hands and through jailhouse glass.
The 50-year-old grew up in Pangburn, Ark. A typical small-town upbringing, he says. His parents beat him, but by 1970s standards, it was normal. He has played guitar since he was 12.
His brother died in a firearms accident when he was 19 or 20, but everyone hunted, and everyone had guns. Normal. One time he killed a pet dog, but that's what you did with sick animals, he said. You shot them.
He's not like the other criminals in jail. He files tax returns. He can read. The highlight of his life isn't the next drug. He thinks Ronald Reagan was president the last time he smoked pot, but he admits he's an alcoholic.
What he won't tell you — what prosecutors say — is that on Sept. 22, 2010, he brutally raped and murdered 94-year-old Ann Parlato in her Port Richey home. They say he crushed her skull and mutilated her upper body. Her lower parts, he burned. There was a stab wound to her abdomen, inflicted after she died. It was a crime so brutal then-Sheriff Bob White called it one of the worst his team had ever seen.
On April 19, Sexton was convicted of first-degree murder. Soon, Circuit Judge Mary Handsel will sentence Sexton to either life in prison or death. With that decision approaching, Sexton's wife, Catherine, called the Tampa Bay Times and said her husband wanted to speak.
Mainly, he wanted to talk about how normal he was and how he hated his lawyers, but he also talked about the crime.
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He was her lawn man.
When a reporter asked Sexton about Parlato's death, he shifted his shackled hands and folded a leg on his knee.
At the crime scene, the carpet near her head was covered in circles of blood so dark it was almost black. The spatter went so high it hit the oscillating fan — higher, even, than the "I love Jesus" sign on the top of the bookshelf of encyclopedias.
What would drive someone to commit such a heinous act?
Rage. A Total loss of control, Sexton surmised.
What are your thoughts on Parlato?
She could be irritating.
Irritating maybe isn't a good word.
The night of the murder, he had parked his truck in the driveway of her house on Colrain Drive, in the New Lakes in Regency Park development. A neighbor heard a loud thump and saw Sexton, through the kitchen window, doing something at the sink. Normal.
Didn't the killing seem almost controlled?
There was something ritualistic about it. Didn't it happen on the autumnal equinox?
He added: But I'm an atheist, and I think it was a detective who told me that.
What about the supposition by prosecutors that a white vase was the murder weapon?
I never saw the evidence and I never saw the photographs, but the vase looked like it was 10 inches long by 3 inches. It was too small.
As he said that, he used his hands to indicate the size.
The report said the blows were probably delivered with something harder than fists.
What do you think was the murder weapon?
I don't even have a guess. How much impact would it take to crush a human skull? Could it have been done if their head's on the floor and someone's punching them? What if it was something handy? Something much bigger, maybe a book?
A detective came to Sexton's house the day after the killing and saw blood on his shorts. It was collected and tested and matched Parlato's. The trial lasted a week. Jurors recommended by at 10-2 vote that he be put to death.
• • •
Jail Sexton is not trial Sexton. The pin-striped suits and ties are now orange and white stripes. The horseshoe hair pattern is now a shining baldness. The shaved face now has Hulk Hogan-like facial hair.
He is an innocent man, he says. It's not the evidence against him that proves this, but the lack of it. He does not think he got an adequate defense. He is not afraid of death. Everyone has to go at some point. Conversations with his wife get him through the days in his cell.
He wants the death sentence, he says, because appeals move more quickly than for a life sentence. And he knows how long it takes — decades, often — for a man to be executed.
I will never see the death chamber.
Jon Silman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229. Follow @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.