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    Adults attempt to deal with cruelty of teens


    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001

    EAST LAKE -- One is described by his father as a bright kid who had talked of becoming a park ranger but struggled with his explosive temper.

    The other seemed typical enough to his youth soccer coach, but bounced between parents and was described as "very sad (and) confused" during their protracted divorce.

    Both had had previous scrapes with the law but nothing to suggest that they would be charged with torturing llamas and killing cattle in what prosecutors say is the worst case of animal cruelty in recent Tampa Bay history.

    If there is a lesson in their story, perhaps it is this: There is no single reason why a boy might go bad.

    "Sometimes human behavior is very hard to explain," said Bob Friedman, chairman of the University of South Florida's department of child and family studies. "It's so hard to explain a random act that is so violent."

    Pinellas and Hillsborough detectives have charged Robert B. Pettyjohn II, 18, and Brandon Eldred, 17, with shooting a bull to death with arrows, gouging the eye out of a 3-month-old llama and sodomizing an adult llama that later died.

    "Parts of it he doesn't remember," said Dr. Bruce Pettyjohn, the father of Robert Pettyjohn, "and the parts that he does, he feels bad about."

    Robert Pettyjohn

    After talking with his son by telephone at the Pinellas County Jail, Dr. Bruce Pettyjohn has a word for him: salvageable.

    "My wife and I both feel that with treatment, he can be normal and lead a productive life and contribute to society," he said.

    Dr. Pettyjohn, Pinellas County's EMS medical director, said his son needs treatment to deal with his temper and drug abuse. He said his son also has acknowledged that he needs help and "prays about it every night."

    "That's half the battle," Dr. Pettyjohn said. "I think he is salvageable with a little professional help."

    Robert Pettyjohn -- Bobby to his family -- was born in Largo and adopted as an infant by two doctors, Bruce and Janet Pettyjohn. The family lives in a rural neighborhood with 5-acre lots and has three dogs and three cats.

    "I don't know what's up with the animals," Dr. Pettyjohn said. "It's confusing because he has animals at home which he loves."

    He describes his son as intelligent. When Robert Pettyjohn was 12 years old, he and his father took the written test to receive their scuba-diving certifications, and the son outscored the father.

    He also can be compassionate, according to his father. When Dr. Pettyjohn went to South Florida as the medical task force commander of the National Guard after Hurricane Andrew, his son went along and comforted children hurt by the storm.

    But he struggled in school and left East Lake High School in 1999 in what his father described as a "mutual agreement." Robert Pettyjohn then began a correspondence course to receive his high school diploma in 2000. Dr. Pettyjohn blames his son's trouble with school on severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He said his son does not have a job.

    Dr. Pettyjohn said he and his wife looked into getting their son into a treatment center, but Robert Pettyjohn said "he would walk out," he said. "So it has to be court-ordered."

    "I love my son," he said. "But we are leaving him in jail until he gets what he needs, which is what we have been trying to do forever."

    Brandon R. Eldred

    Unlike Pettyjohn, Eldred, who has worked as a telemarketer, has been released from jail and is back at his mother's apartment in East Lake. But he closed the door on a Times reporter Monday, and his mother did not respond to a request for an interview.

    Born in Plantation in 1983, Eldred has lived in Tampa, Clearwater and Palm Harbor. He attended East Lake High School but left in 1999.

    His parents separated when he was 9, and Eldred and his twin sister, Ashley, lived with their mother, Martha P. Eldred, until he got in an altercation with his mother's boyfriend.

    When Eldred was 14, he started living with his mother once again after she said in court pleadings that he was left alone for "long hours into the night" and was underachieving in school.

    "Brandon's very sad, confused," she wrote in a petition to gain custody of her son. "He gets upset for (the) smallest of things. Always saying he's sorry."

    On Jan. 23, a Pinellas sheriff's deputy responded to the Eldred home on East Lake Road because of reports of family trouble. Eldred told a deputy that he had just gotten back from a three-day trip to Tallahassee and found that he could not unlock the front door, according to an incident report.

    There also was a note taped to the front door from his mother, "stating that she was throwing him out," according to the report. His mother told the deputy "she could no longer cope with his behavior and disrespect."

    The deputy said that because Brandon was a juvenile and lived there with her, the law required her to provide him shelter, according to the report.

    A week later on Jan. 30, deputies say, Eldred slashed a 3-year-old llama named Sir Lancelot with a titanium meat cleaver. He also faces two counts of animal cruelty and one count of trespass in the Feb. 11 attack on two other llamas and is charged with killing a bull with arrows at an Odessa ranch Jan. 17.

    Eldred's youth league soccer coach, Bill Burton, was shocked by the charges.

    "He just isn't that type of kid," Burton said. "He was a very good player, very well-behaved and never gave me a problem. But I always did worry about him hanging out with the wrong crowd."

    Pettyjohn, who also faces charges for the bull attack, faces two counts of animal cruelty and one count of trespass for the Feb. 11 attack.

    Ken Shapiro, a clinical psychologist who is executive director of Maryland-based Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, doubts that both teens would suffer from a mental disorder that caused the attacks.

    That might be more likely if there was only one person abusing the animals, he said.

    But "with two doing it, it sounds more like some kind of delinquency," he said. "These are two kids who got together and said, "What can we do for fun and excitement?' and this is what they picked."

    - Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

    Recent coverage

    Animal cruelty case expands (March 2, 2001)

    Well-known lawyer defends teen in llama case (February 21, 2001)

    Suspect in llama beatings to be charged as adult (February 20, 2001)

    Injured llama returns to shaken home (February 18, 2001)

    Suspect in llama attack faces new charge (February 15, 2001)

    Llama attack shakes idyllic neighborhood (February 14, 2001)

    Second person arrested in llama beatings (February 13, 2001)

    2 llamas beaten; teenager charged (February 12, 2001)

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