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A 7-5 vote recommends Timothy Permenter die. The judge has the final say. A hearing is Tuesday.
Published Nov. 19, 2007

A jury recommended the death penalty Friday for Timothy Permenter, who was convicted earlier in the 2003 murder of his girlfriend, Karen Pannell.

Pinellas County Circuit Judge R. Timothy Peters did not sentence Permenter immediately. Peters, who has the option to follow the jury's recommendation or impose a life sentence, scheduled a status hearing Tuesday.

Jurors voted 7-5 for the death penalty. The same jury convicted Permenter, 40, of first-degree murder last month.

Prosecutors said Permenter stabbed Pannell 16 times, mostly around her neck and heart, and left her in a pool of blood in her kitchen.

He wrote the word "Roc" on the wall with her blood, they said. Roc was the name of one of Pannell's ex-boyfriends.

Pannell, 39, was an American Airlines employee at Tampa International Airport.

More than a dozen of her family members from Georgia and Florida attended the trial. A smaller group of the relatives was in court Friday.

A brother and former sister-in-law became teary-eyed when the jury made its recommendation.

During testimony earlier in the day, prosecutors said there were several aggravating factors jurors should consider when deciding between life in prison and a death sentence.

Permenter was a convicted felon on probation when he killed Pannell, prosecutors said. Six of the 16 felonies he was convicted of committing were violent.

But the main factor was the cruelty of the killing, prosecutors contended. Permenter probably stabbed Pannell once in the back, paralyzing her. Then he stabbed her 15 more times while on top of her, according to court testimony.

She was conscious during the attack and aware of her impending death, prosecutors said.

"She was looking up into the eyes of her murderer," said Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery. "There's no question it was atrocious, heinous and cruel."

A forensic psychologist testified on Permenter's behalf that he believes Permenter is psychotic.

Because of his mental illness, the psychologist testified Permenter meets two statutory requirements that can mitigate against a death sentence.

The psychologist, Robert Berland, said he interviewed Permenter's extended family and friends. An ex-girlfriend said Permenter mumbled to himself when he thought he was alone, a sign that he is delusional.

"He doesn't perceive the world the same way," said Assistant Public Defender Bob McClure in his closing argument to jurors. "That mental illness is always in the background."

The defense tried to paint a picture of a dysfunctional upbringing Friday.

Permenter's mother, Donna Finch, gave birth to him as a teenager. She said she divorced Permenter's father after two years of marriage. The father left the state and never contacted his son.

Finch said she raised Permenter with her father, Alex D. Finch, a former Clearwater mayor and lawyer who was murdered in his office in 1989 when Permenter was in his early 20s.

But the psychologist testified other family members said Permenter and two sisters were raised mostly by Donna Finch's grandparents.

McClure told the jury Permenter would never get out of prison. He said his life was worth saving.

"Understand that society is going to be protected from him," said McClure, pointing to his client. "Tim Permenter is dressed in a nice suit. It's the last time in his life he's ever going to dress nicely again."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at or (727) 4224.