NEW PORT RICHEY — The defense offered no new evidence to exonerate Phillup Alan Partin of first-degree murder. No new witnesses. No new forensic evidence. Not even the words of the accused himself.
When the trial resumed Monday after a weekend break, what the defense did offer to jurors was a reimagining of the crime that took 16-year-old Joshan Ashbrook's life six years ago.
The defense blamed her death on a friend of Partin's, a man he met in prison, someone who gave him a place to live in Port Richey.
The defense didn't deny that Partin gave the teen runaway a ride on July 31, 2002. They didn't deny that he took her to a Wal-Mart, then fishing, then took her home to a room he rented from that friend.
It was in that room where the defense said she was murdered — by Partin's friend, unbeknown to Partin.
How did Partin's hairs and DNA end up in her hand? Why was there blood in his old room? Because Partin's DNA was already in the room in which she was killed.
But Partin, the defense said in its closing argument, had nothing to do with her death.
"The hardest thing to do is not to find someone guilty of murder," lawyer William Bennett told jurors. "It's to find someone not guilty of murder."
Threat or not?
Jurors patiently listened to both sides' closing arguments for 41/2 hours on Monday. They will begin their deliberations this morning.
Partin, who is facing the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder, declined to testify on his own behalf.
Partin's friend, the landlord who rented him a room, is not being identified by the St. Petersburg Times because he has not been charged with anything.
The real action Monday took place away from the jury, before closing arguments, when a state witness said someone threatened his life in a courtroom hallway.
Who threatened John Dykstra Sr.? He said it was his old employee — and the same friend of Partin's that the defense blamed for the murder.
"You're a dead man," he said Partin's friend told him.
Partin's friend testified that he didn't threaten anybody. He testified that he told Dykstra this:
"You're the man," the friend said, "not 'You're a dead man.' "
That begs the question: Why would Partin's friend threaten a witness whose only purpose in the trial was to give him an alibi for the murder?
Dykstra, the last state witness prosecutor Mike Halkitis called on Friday, told jurors that Partin's friend, the man the defense blamed for the murder, was cleaning restaurants in Palm Harbor and St. Petersburg at the time when Joshan was killed.
"The person we are arguing actually murdered the victim is in the hallway threatening both defense and state witnesses," said defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand.
Circuit Judge William Webb never determined who was telling the truth. He just decided that the jury wouldn't hear about it, that it wasn't relevant to the case.
Plenty of questions
The defense never directly confronted Partin's friend, never accused him on the stand, in front of the jury, of Joshan's death.
But in his closing, Halkitis refocused the jury on Partin and his actions after the murder.
It was Partin who fled the area after the murder; Partin who dumped his 7-year-old daughter off with friends in Wauchula; Partin who disappeared out of state and called detectives for 13 months on the run.
Why was the victim found naked from the waist down? Because she was seen wearing Partin's shorts, and he didn't want her found in them, Halkitis argued. Why did Partin abandon his pickup in Plant City with worn-out tires? Because his old tires left tracks by the body — tracks investigators later matched to Partin's old pickup, the prosecutor said.
"He's getting rid of physical evidence," Halkitis said. "He got rid of the shorts. He got rid of the tires. And what's the third thing you got rid of?
"Yourself. You get rid of yourself."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.