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St. Petersburg man convicted in Realtor attacks sentenced to 20 years in prison

Attorney Lee Pearlman called Paul Pinkston a “responsible and professional individual” and said he plans to file an appeal.
Attorney Lee Pearlman called Paul Pinkston a “responsible and professional individual” and said he plans to file an appeal.
Published Jun. 24, 2016

The terror of being held at gunpoint still haunts Elaine Goller's dreams.

More than a year ago, the St. Petersburg Realtor was showing a house to a man, later identified as Paul Pinkston, when he brandished a gun in her face and shackled her with handcuffs and zip ties. The same day, he tried to rob another real estate agent.

The attacks unnerved the local real estate community until Pinkston's arrest days later.

"I don't hate him, but I don't forgive him," Goller said in court Friday during Pinkston's sentencing. "It felt like we were being hunted."

Pinellas Circuit Judge Michael Andrews sentenced Pinkston, 59, to 20 years in prison. Last month, he was found guilty of two counts of armed robbery and one count of kidnapping.

Pinkston, an Air Force major with no criminal history, has maintained his innocence throughout the case.

"I'm very sorry and sympathetic to the victims and I feel bad for them," Pinkston said moments before the judge issued his sentence. "Although it wasn't me, I do feel very sorry for what they've gone through."

The robberies occurred last June. Goller received a call from a man who had seen an ad online for a small house in the Tyrone area of St. Petersburg.

She pulled up to the home and Pinkston was already outside. After giving him a tour, he pointed a gun at her. He handcuffed her and wrapped zip ties around her ankles.

"There cannot be a more terrifying experience for a woman," Assistant State Attorney Gregory Groger said.

Pinkston took her phone and keys and called her husband, Philip Twitchell, demanding a $50,000 ransom. When Twitchell declined, Pinkston questioned whether he loved his wife. He left after Twitchell threatened that he knew where they were located.

"How dare you question my commitment to my wife and my marriage, how dare you intimidate me, how dare you tell me I will never see my wife again?" Twitchell said Friday.

In the second robbery, Pinkston also pulled a gun on another agent and took her phone and keys, but left abruptly after another real estate agent arrived at the house on Oxford Street.

He was arrested June 8 last year after police received a tip about the robber's identity. Search warrants detailed what led investigators to Pinkston, including video surveillance from a Pinellas Park Walmart that showed him purchasing a prepaid phone police determined was used to schedule the house showings. Pinkston also drove a 2009 Nissan Murano, the same car the victims described to detectives.

Pinkston's wife, Carol, spoke Friday, describing their happy 37-year marriage and the family life they led with their son.

"I know that the jury has made their verdict and I have great respect for that and for our judicial system," she said, "but I will have to say that I have never believed fully that the person who did this was the husband that I know and that I've loved all these years."

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Lee Pearlman, his defense attorney, described Pinkston as a "responsible and professional individual," adding that he plans to file an appeal.

Goller, the real estate agent, still suffers from moments of panic. When she gets an inquiry from an online house ad, "I'll never be able to hear that again without experiencing dread."

"I'm happy today," she said, "that the system worked."

Contact Laura C. Morel at Follow @lauracmorel.