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Second trial opens in killing of runaway teen

NEW PORT RICHEY — The glass doors slide open. A man, a teenager and a little girl casually stroll into Wal-Mart Supercenter. A video camera watches them.

The little girl dressed in pink walks in the middle. Patrisha Partin is 7 on the video taken six years ago.

Now she is a witness in a murder trial.

On her right in the video is Joshan Ashbrook. Just 16, she has run away from home.

It is the morning of June 31, 2002. The next day the teenager will be found with a broken neck and a slit throat.

On the left walks Phillup Alan Partin.

He went on trial Tuesday for Ashbrook's murder.

The videotape was part of the evidence the state presented to the second jury in six months to sit in judgment of Partin, 42.

The first jury was dismissed in October, after Circuit Judge William Webb declared a mistrial.

A Pasco sheriff's detective had incorrectly testified that a stain found near the body was not forensically tested. It had been tested, as both the state and defense learned to their surprise afterward, prompting the mistrial.

Prosecutor Mike Halkitis told jurors the evidence he would use to link Partin to Ashbrook's death: tire tracks found near her body that could have come from his pickup truck; eyewitnesses who saw them together before her death; the blood stain found in Partin's old bedroom; and the DNA sample that Ashbrook captured from Partin as she fought for her life.

"The hair implanted in the hand of young Joshan Ashbrook, do you know whose hair is in her hand?" Halkitis told the jury. "He's sitting right here: Phillup Alan Partin."

After Ashbrook's body was found along Shady Hills Road on Aug. 1, 2002, the prosecutor told jurors, Partin disappeared. He dropped Patrisha off with a friend, leaving behind her birth certificate, but no extra clothes.

While on the run, Partin spoke cryptically of his fate should he return to Florida, the prosecutor said.

" 'You're talking to a walking, talking dead man,' " Halkitis recounted Partin telling one witness, "and then he laughs."

Attorney William Bennett delivered the defense's opening. He told jurors that the defense won't challenge the state's evidence — just the state's interpretation of that evidence.

Bennett told jurors they should take a hard look at Partin's old landlords, whom he lived with when Ashbrook was killed: Fred and Diane Kaufman.

"If they don't call Fred Kaufman as a witness," the lawyer said, "we will."

Ashbrook's mother, Tara Lynn Ramsdall, identified her daughter on the security camera footage. In 2003 she sued the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for failing to serve a court order to take her daughter into custody before her death. The mother later settled with the agency for $25,000.

The trial is expected to take all of this week. Partin faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder. If the jury finds him guilty of that, they will recommend next week whether he should be sent to death row.

Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Second trial opens in killing of runaway teen 03/12/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 1:56pm]
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