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Verdict is guilty in Pasco teenager's 2002 murder

NEW PORT RICHEY — He didn't even know her name.

Phillup Alan Partin was the last one seen with the teenage girl before her half-naked body was found in Shady Hills in 2002.

The fake name he gave to detectives over his cell phone hadn't thrown them off. So he fled the state. But he kept calling detectives, feeding them bits of information, hoping to get them off his trail.

"What time did you meet Joshan that morning?" a detective asked in one recorded call.

"Who?" Partin replied.

Her name is Joshan Ashbrook. She was beaten and strangled, her throat cut, her head ripped from her spine, her body dumped alongside Shady Hills Road.

She was found on Aug. 1, 2002, and almost six years later, a jury decided that it was Partin who left her like that.

The jury of eight men and four women took little more than three hours Tuesday to find Partin guilty of first-degree murder.

Their job isn't done yet. They will re-convene at 9 a.m. today to begin the penalty phase, to decide whether a sentence of life or death is appropriate for Partin's crime.

• • •

Partin accepted the verdict the same way he had handled everything else in his trial: indifferently.

He stood for the verdict, then leaned back into his chair, his bearded chin resting on his right hand. It's the same position he's kept throughout the trial.

Partin, 42, declined to testify on his own behalf. The only hint of emotion he displayed was when he glared at Deputy, Scott Gattuso, who testified against him. Before the trial, from his jail cell, Partin penned a mocking letter to Pasco Sheriff Bob White about Gattuso's long disciplinary record.

The victim's mother, Tara Lynn Ramsdell, clutched her husband Robert's arm and shook as the verdict was read. She sued and later settled with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for failing to obey a court order to pick up her runaway daughter.

Instead, authorities say, Partin found the 16-year-old girl first.

The mother declined to comment after the verdict. She wanted to save it for today, when she will get to address the man who killed her daughter.

The state's strongest evidence was given to them by Joshan herself. They are the hairs that authorities say she tore from Partin with her left hand during their struggle, when he attacked her from behind, pinned her right hand with his left and cut her throat with his right.

The hairs contained Partin's DNA.

•••

But the verdict does not answer all the questions left in the wake of Joshan's death. Chief among them: Why?

After Partin's capture 13 months later, detectives tried to find out in taped interviews.

Partin admitted that he had picked up many hitchhikers the same way he picked up Joshan, by just making eye-contact alongside the road. They went to Wal-Mart with his 7-year-old daughter, then fishing, then went back to his place.

Had she rejected his sexual advances? Was Partin enraged to discover she was just a teenager? What set Partin off the night of July 31, 2002 — the last time Joshan was seen alive?

Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis told jurors Monday that whatever Partin intended to do that night, it was premeditated. Why else would he take Joshan out with him that night, but leave Patrisha, his young daughter, behind at home?

"Why don't you take Patrisha with you?" the prosecutor asked jurors. "Because you don't want your young girl to see what's going to happen."

Jamal Thalji covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached at (727) 869-6236 or thalji@sptimes.com.

Verdict is guilty in Pasco teenager's 2002 murder 03/18/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 9:38am]
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