NEW PORT RICHEY — Jurors voted 10-2 on Tuesday to recommend the death penalty for John Sexton, the man convicted of murdering 94-year-old Ann Parlato in her Port Richey home.
The panel deliberated for an hour and a half after hearing more than a day's worth of testimony and arguments on Sexton's fate. Sexton, 49, was convicted last month of first-degree murder and faces either life in prison without parole or death.
Before the jury handed over its recommendation, Sexton walked out with his hands shackled in front of him and without his jacket on. He wore a blue button-up shirt — no tie — and slacks without a belt.
When it was read, Sexton's wife Catherine put her hands over her mouth and leaned forward onto the wooden bench. Parlato's niece, Jerri Barr, and friend Dorinda Cifelli, said a quick and quiet "yes!" Sexton did not react.
Circuit Judge Mary Handsel will make the final decision, and she must give the jury's recommendation great weight. That hearing is scheduled for Aug. 2.
The defense spent much of Monday describing Sexton's abusive upbringing, problems with alcohol and bipolar disorder, a recent diagnosis made by a defense expert. His attorney also noted that Sexton, who once owned a waterproofing company, was exposed for years to industrial chemicals that might have harmed his brain.
"You have to literally decide to recommend either that Mr. John Sexton die or be imprisoned for the rest of his life," defense Byron Hileman told jurors. "That decision should not be based on emotion or anger or vengeance. It should be based upon the law of Florida and the constitution."
Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis spent much of his closing argument challenging the defense experts and reminding jurors of the heinous nature of the September 2010 crime. Parlato's face was crushed beyond recognition, her ribs broken, her spine dislocated. Her injuries indicated she had been sexually assaulted before her death, and stabbed and burned afterward.
Halkitis questioned the defense's claims that Sexton's good behavior in jail and past abuse are enough to spare him from the death penalty.
"He is a good inmate. What does that show us?" Halkitis asked. "What does that mitigate? That he's in solitary and nothing happens?"
He pointed out that the psychologist and psychiatrist hired by the defense were paid to find evidence that favors Sexton.
"There are four instances where he's placed in a setting and evaluated by more time than the (witnesses) combined and they don't find bipolar or toxic poisoning or brain damage," Halkitis said. "And maybe that's because they're not paid $240 an hour. Maybe they don't work for the defense team."
In his rebuttal, Hileman noted that everyone, even Halkitis, is paid for his or her work.
After the decision, Sexton's wife sat alone and still. Cifelli hugged her. She whispered something.
"I wanted her to know God loves her," Cifelli said later, "and her life can be whatever she wants it to be."
"She doesn't have to live in his shadow anymore," Barr said.