Shooting two bulls gets teen 10 years
By GRAHAM BRINK, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ron Ficarrotta told the dozen or so onlookers that he had "thought hard" about how to sentence an obviously disturbed teenager who sneaked onto a ranch with a friend and shot two bulls with a bow and arrows.
Not to mention the llamas, the goat and the gerbil he is accused of torturing in other cases.
On the one hand, Robert Pettyjohn's family and friends painted him as kind and caring, the "all-American kid," the judge observed. A psychologist testified that Pettyjohn struggled with myriad mental problems including a bipolar disorder, paranoia and attention deficit disorder.
On the other, the judge said he thought the crimes to which Pettyjohn had earlier pleaded guilty were "senseless, vicious and malicious." He wondered whether Pettyjohn exhibited behavior common to serial killers.
Pointing a finger at the defendant standing a few feet away, Ficarrotta said, "And Mr. Pettyjohn, you must be punished."
Minutes later, the judge sentenced Pettyjohn to 10 years in prison. The judge will allow Pettyjohn to get out after three years. Once out, if he violates his probation, he could be sent back to serve the remaining seven years.
He also received two years of house arrest, five years of probation and 150 hours of community service to be served with an organization that deals with animals. Pettyjohn, who will serve his time as a youthful offender away from the regular prison population, must also pay $15,000 in restitution to the owner of the bulls, Kay O'Rourke.
Last January, Pettyjohn, now 19, and Brandon Eldred, 18, jumped a fence at the Tradition Ranch in Odessa and killed one bull and injured another. According to prosecutors, Pettyjohn bragged about the killing, saying, "I got my jollies off by shooting the cow."
Eldred pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.
In another incident, a prosecutor said Pettyjohn tortured and killed a neighbor's pet goat named Peter by hanging him like a pinata and beating him with a baseball bat, breaking the goat's skull in 20 places.
In January 2001, the two men rented a Fort Wayne, Ind., motel room, which authorities found covered in animal feces. Authorities believe the friends killed gerbils there with a pellet gun or slingshot.
In February, the friends attacked three llamas in East Lake, authorities said. The teens sodomized a nursing llama named Monopoly, then beat it between 50 and 100 times with a golf club; attacked another llama named Willie Wonka, causing it to lose its left eye; and struck a third llama, Sir Lancelot, with a meat cleaver.
Pettyjohn, of New Port Richey, still faces trial on the Pinellas charges.
Ficarrotta said he would not consider those incidents in rendering his sentence, as they were only allegations and had not been proved. The prosecutors had asked for a 15-year sentence, with the option of letting Pettyjohn out after five years. Assistant State Attorney Ronald Gale showed the judge a video taken at the jail of Pettyjohn talking to his parents and friends. In the video, Pettyjohn threatens to go after witnesses and swears repeatedly, calling police officers "speed bumps" among many other unprintable names.
Gale listed a number of serial killers including Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo and Happy Face Killer Keith Jesperson, who tortured and killed animals before moving on to humans. He also pointed out that Pettyjohn had two juvenile arrests for robbery and battery.
"He's not the all-American boy," Gale said.
Pettyjohn's attorney Chip Purcell had asked the judge to place Pettyjohn in a secured psychological facility for at least two years, followed by strict probation. He said prison would only make Pettyjohn's situation worse.
"I would say with great confidence that he will not get the help that he needs in prison," Purcell said.
After the sentencing, O'Rourke said she was pleased with the outcome. She said it was obvious that Pettyjohn suffers from major psychological problems and "lives in a different world than we do." She said she thought the thrill of killing animals would wane and Pettyjohn would move on to harming people.
"He lives in a very dark world," she said. "I hope he can get help and turn things around."
-- Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Graham Brink at (813) 226-3365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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