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    Llamas' attacker pleads guilty

    Robert Pettyjohn agrees to eight years in prison for a series of charges, and could face 40 more years if he violates probation.

    photo
    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    Robert Pettyjohn, 19, sits in a Pinellas County courtroom Friday as the charges against him are read. His attorney, Chip Purcell, is at left. Pettyjohn blew a kiss to his family and friends as the hearing began.

    By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 27, 2002


    The lead defendant in Pinellas County's most notorious animal abuse case pleaded guilty Friday to the golf-club beating of two pet llamas and numerous other crimes.

    Robert "Bobby" Pettyjohn agreed to serve a total of eight years in prison. First he will serve a three-year sentence he already received for killing a bull in Hillsborough County. Then he will serve a five-year sentence for the llama-beating and other Pinellas charges, followed by five years of probation.

    If he violates his probation, the 19-year-old could return to prison for as long as 40 years, prosecutors said.

    "He, in effect, has a life sentence hanging over his head," assistant state attorney Bill Burgess said.

    The case against Pettyjohn and his co-defendant, Brandon Eldred, began Feb. 11, 2001. On a moonlit night, they stumbled over the fence to Keith and Susan Appenzeller's livestock pen on Ranch Road in rural East Lake. They had been drinking beer, smoking marijuana and taking the prescription drug Xanax. They carried golf clubs.

    They dragged a 3-month-old llama named Willie Wonka under a fence. It struggled to get away but was clubbed, kicked and punched. Its left eye was gouged out. When an adult female llama named Monopoly approached, they turned their attack on it.

    Monopoly died a few hours later on the way to a hospital. A necropsy found that the llama had been sodomized and suffered 50 to 100 blows, mostly around its reproductive organs.

    "From day one, we kept coming up with leads that we couldn't believe," said Pinellas County sheriff's Detective Tom Hoddinott, who investigated the case with Detective Mike Weaver. "I don't believe Pinellas County has ever seen anything like this."

    One of the keys to the state's case, Burgess said, was that the deputies who responded to Ranch Road quickly found and interviewed Eldred and Pettyjohn. Deputies originally were called to Ranch Road when a neighbor reported seeing someone suspicious on his property.

    Before learning of the llama attack, deputies encountered Eldred walking down Ranch Road, swinging a broken golf club shaft in his hand. When Deputy Robert Loveland stopped Eldred, the 18-year-old came at him in a threatening manner, according to court reports.

    Loveland drew his gun and ordered Eldred to drop the club. Loveland then took the club, which ended up being a crucial piece of evidence, questioned Eldred briefly and let him go. First, however, Eldred mentioned that he had been with his friend Bobby Pettyjohn and that he was looking for him.

    That statement tied the two together.

    Soon after, with morning fog still blanketing the street, Keith Appenzeller flagged down deputies. He had discovered Willie Wonka grunting and lying next to a blood-splattered clump of leaves. The animal was beaten so badly that Appenzeller first thought it had been hit by a car.

    Appenzeller also found a shiny metal rod near the injured llama. He thought it was a car antenna. In fact, it was the broken shaft of a golf club.

    Deputies immediately brought Eldred back for questioning. While he was being questioned, another deputy found Pettyjohn in the driveway of his parents' home on Ranch Road. He was passed out in a Jeep, one foot hanging out of the door. Deputies tried to nudge him awake but couldn't. Then his mother came out to the Jeep and roused him by slapping him. Talking to a deputy, Pettyjohn suddenly said, "We were just f------ around with the llamas, man."

    In the weeks that followed, detectives delved into a "subculture" of Pettyjohn's friends, Hoddinott said.

    "It just opened the floodgates," Weaver said.

    In Hillsborough, the two were charged with shooting arrows at two bulls at a ranch in Odessa. In Pinellas, Eldred was charged with hacking a third llama in the face with a titanium meat cleaver. Pettyjohn was charged with mutilating a pet goat named Peter.

    Investigators say the goat was stabbed and beaten to death, its head cracked into 29 pieces. It was buried in the back yard of Pettyjohn's former home on Ranch Road.

    One witness decribed the goat as being used as a "living pinata." When Pettyjohn was asked for a motive, he replied, "Pure pleasure," deputies said.

    At the time, detectives said to themselves, "this is completely unbelievable," Hoddinott said.

    Court records also reveal the other tips that Pettyjohn's friends gave detectives and prosecutors. They described how he watched the movie Hannibal -- about a cannibalistic serial killer -- the weekend of the llama attacks. They also said he threw large parties where teens used drugs openly in the front yard of his parents' former home on Ranch Road. They told of Pettyjohn hunting squirrels with a BB gun, cutting off their tails and pinning them to a wall.

    Another friend reported seeing Pettyjohn throw a dead hawk into a bonfire. Still another saw him place an opossum's head on a stick and hack armadillos with a machete.

    In videotaped conversations with relatives and friends visiting him at Pinellas County Jail last year, Pettyjohn was, by turns, brash with friends, rude to deputies and emotional with relatives. He talked of suing "the news" for slandering him.

    At one point, Pettyjohn talked of going on a cruise with his mother when he got out of jail and said he faced no real jail time. Other times, he sounded confused.

    "I'd feel better if I knew what the h--- was going on," Pettyjohn said to his mother during one visit about a year ago. "I'd feel better if someone would actually do something. I can't do s--- in here. I've been in here forever. They don't care. They just want to keep me in here for as long as they can."

    On Friday, Pettyjohn's guilty plea brought the owners of the two llamas both closure and sadness.

    "My feelings go back and forth," Susan Appenzeller said, fighting back tears. "I'm really angry that it happened, but I feel really bad for him. We are just sorry that this is his life now."

    Wearing thin-rimmed glasses, a green shirt and pants with a dark tie, a slender Pettyjohn seemed to be in a good mood during Friday's 30-minute hearing, blowing a kiss to his family and friends at the beginning of the proceedings.

    In Pinellas, Pettyjohn faced nine felony charges -- three for cruelty to animals -- and a misdemeanor charge for trespassing. The felonies, which carried a maximum penalty of five years, ranged from distribution of a controlled substance to grand theft.

    In return for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop a Pasco County escape charge for Pettyjohn's walking out the front door of jail in October.

    The weight of what Pettyjohn was facing was the reason for the plea, said his attorney, Chip Purcell, who called it "risk management."

    "Was it the right thing to do?" Purcell said. "I hope so. Do I know for sure? No. I just know that we couldn't run the risk."

    Pettyjohn's family had little to say after the hearing.

    "We have a couple of weeks before we talk to anybody," said Pettyjohn's mother, Janet. "Right now, our emotions are too high."

    Pettyjohn's co-defendant, Eldred, has so far escaped a prison sentence. Eldred was sentenced to house arrest and probation for the attack on the bulls, while Pettyjohn got the three-year sentence.

    Eldred's attorney has argued that his client is different from Pettyjohn because he has shown remorse and offered to help the state against Pettyjohn.

    When asked whether he thought there was a difference between Eldred and Pettyjohn, Detective Hoddinott said, "they were both there."

    Eldred is waiting to be sentenced for his part of the attack on the Appenzellers' llamas. Pinellas prosecutors intend to recommend that he go to prison, too.

    On Friday, as the courtroom cleared, prosecutor Bill Burgess looked at the Appenzellers and said, "One down. One to go."

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