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Sheriff offers motive for murders: sex assault

The Manatee sheriff says a landscaper may have tried to molest Sherry Brannon before she and her two daughters were killed.

A landscaper accused of murder may have been trying to sexually assault Sherry Brannon before killing her and her daughters in September, Manatee County Sheriff Charlie Wells said Wednesday.

Based on Larry James Parks' other actions, sexual assault seems the most likely reason he went to the Brannon house in the east Manatee subdivision of Panther Ridge the night of Sept. 15, Wells said, commenting for the first time about a possible reason for the killings.

"If it was a sexual assault, it wasn't a successful one," Wells said. "Sherry may have put up more of a fight than he anticipated. She was real resistant to him."

Parks, 45, a Myakka City landscaper, is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Mrs. Brannon, 35, Shelby Brannon, 7, and Cassidy Brannon, 4. He has pleaded innocent. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Wells' comments came hours after a judge released 280 pages of interviews and investigative records related to the murders and to a sexual assault that Parks is charged with committing several weeks later in Myakka City.

The records tell of the scene Albert Dewey Brannon Jr., Mrs. Brannon's estranged husband, found when he arrived at the house on the morning of Sept. 16. Dewey Brannon discovered his wife and children stabbed several times. The records also shed some light on Parks' actions after the murders.

Dewey Brannon found parts of a cordless phone on the front porch and inside the house. He also found a torn piece of a black shirt.

Mrs. Brannon, a nurse in St. Petersburg, knew Parks because he spent several months working on the Brannon home and in the neighborhood while the house was being built.

Parks may have used that familiarity to ask Mrs. Brannon for help or to use the phone, getting her to open the door some time after 10:10 p.m. on Sept. 15, Wells said.

There was no forced entry into the house.

Once inside, Parks attacked the trio, Wells said. Mrs. Brannon was stabbed 13 times. Cassidy was stabbed seven times and Shelby was stabbed 19 times, according to autopsy reports.

Wells said Parks was probably high on crack cocaine when he went to the Brannon home. Friends and acquaintances of Parks described him to authorities as a quiet, polite, if not friendly, man when sober. He became violent and sometimes sexually experimental when he was using drugs, they said.

"The drugs seemed to ignite him," Wells said.

The victim of the Myakka City sexual assault, her boyfriend and their neighbor, who used to date Parks, said Parks talked about killing himself and challenged a man to kill him, according to court records. They also said he planned to leave Manatee County.

Parks has spent nearly all of his life in Myakka City and shown little interest in leaving until the weeks after the murders, according to court records.

"There was a hint that he may be about ready to skip town," Wells said. "We would assume there was a connection."