There was blood on John Sexton's shorts — easy to notice in the autumn sunlight.
It was Sept. 27, 2010, and Pasco sheriff's detectives were at Sexton's Port Richey home because, hours earlier, a 94-year-old woman named Ann Parlato was mutilated and murdered. At the time, then-Sheriff Bob White called the killing one of the worst his team had ever seen. When asked for a motive, he used one word: Evil.
The case goes to trial this week. A jury was picked Monday, and opening arguments begin today. The state attorney is seeking the death penalty.
Deputies connected Sexton to the crime because a neighbor had heard a loud thump at Parlato's house, and saw Parlato's "lawn man" in the window at a sink. The neighbor didn't call deputies — he thought maybe Sexton was helping with chores. He did, though, take down the license plate number of a truck outside, which was Sexton's.
The detective noticed Sexton's legs and hands were shaking when they went to interview him at his house and saw the reddish stains on his shorts, which tests later confirmed were Parlato's blood. Sexton tried to conceal his hands by turning his knuckles toward his body. The detective saw a moon-shaped cut above his middle finger.
"Oh, wow, that's horrible," Sexton said, when told Parlato was dead. "I kind of liked her."
The officer asked where Sexton was the night before. Sexton yelled to his wife. "What time did I get home, about 10:30?"
Catherine looked at the detective. "He's lying," she said. "He got home about 2 a.m."
Detectives asked Sexton to come talk at the station.
• • •
Sexton is 49. He's six feet tall and he weighed about 180 pounds at his arrest. His wife, Catherine, his third, told Pasco deputies he was an atheist and a daily drinker. Sometimes he'd take her antidepressant pills, and once he was taken into custody for a mental health evaluation under the state's Baker Act. The couple met at a swingers club. She said he used to cheat on her. They moved to Pasco in May 2010, to a house with Catherine's mother and boyfriend.
Sexton married his first wife in 1983, in Arkansas. She said Sexton would try to get her to do deviant sexual things, but she always refused.
She said they took photography classes at the University of Arkansas. He liked to photograph naked women, she said.
His second wife called him a habitual liar and said he loved starting fires. She said he was very intelligent and hated anything that had to do with religion. She said he was a sociopath, sex addict and deviant. She said she left when he threw their 6-week-old daughter across the room at her.
• • •
Dori Cifelli, a neighbor, made the 911 call. She found Parlato's front door open. There was stuff knocked over everywhere. Then she saw legs on the carpet.
"She's my adopted grandma," she cried to the operator. "She's been beaten in the head."
The operator told Cifelli to make sure Parlato wasn't breathing. She put the phone down, and repeated the words "Oh, my God" over and over again.
Deputies arrived and found Parlato covered by a white sheet. The carpet around her head was covered in deep circles of dark liquid. The spatter went so high it hit the oscillating fan — higher than the "I love Jesus" sign on the top of the bookshelf of encyclopedias. There was a cane and a knife and piles of books and magazines around the body. There was an open cap from a bottle of bleach.
Parlato suffered traumatic injuries to her head and face.
Her upper torso was badly mutilated. Parts of her were severed or burned. Several of her nails were chipped and broken. There was a stab wound in her abdomen, which an autopsy report said was done postmortem. The report said the blows were probably done with something harder than fists.
The master bedroom was ransacked, and the bathroom had blood on the counters and sink and the shower. There was women's underwear in the sink, and cigarette ashes on the counter.
There was evidence someone used the washing machine. Cut grass and cigarette butts were found inside.
In the driveway, a lone smoked cigarette was found.
• • •
Parlato was a night owl and loved having visitors, neighbors said. She had lived for 30 years in her white stucco home on Colrain Drive, in the Lakes of Regency Park. This is where she and her late husband, John, planted the evergreen trees that now tower over the tile roof. She had her garden and her friends from church and neighbors who watched out for her every day.
"She was a sweet old lady," Sexton told detectives, "and sometimes she'd hold my hand."
He told detectives he'd been to Parlato's house earlier in the day, but wasn't there at night. He said he went over to ask for work. He mentioned how she always told him not to work on a Sunday because "'it's a day of rest.' "
"Here's my dilemma in my whole thing," the detective said. "Your times are different than what the neighbor saw. And he took the time and he wrote down your tag number."
"I don't know," Sexton said. "I couldn't have been there at midnight."
"He saw you in the kitchen," the detective said.
"I wasn't in the kitchen," Sexton answered.
"If you were me, what would you be thinking?" the detective asked.
"I don't know," Sexton replied. "What you're thinking, obviously."
"I mean, something happened," the detective said. "That's why we're here."
Sexton again said he was never at the house that late at night.
"So the neighbor next door is absolutely lying?" the detective asked. "Seeing mirages or something? When he writes down your tag number?"
"I guess so," Sexton said.
"This is probably the most evidence I've seen at a crime scene," the detective said. "If something happened, now is your opportunity." Now is the chance to explain what happened, the detective continued, "because you know how it's going to look on you later? Do you know?"
"What?" Sexton said.
"It's going to make you look like a cold-hearted killer."
Contact Jon Silman at (727) 869-6229, [email protected] or @jonsilman1 on Twitter.