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    'I thought that they would help him'

    The widow of a man shot to death by police questions her decision to call them and the tactics they used.

    By LEANORA MINAI

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001


    PINELLAS PARK -- It seemed only fair two years ago that Ronald Sexton held a winning $1-million lottery ticket.

    Sexton, a helicopter gunner in Vietnam, was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and battling a drinking problem. The money might have given him a chance to get help. He looked forward to retirement and spending time with his wife.

    But money couldn't cure his ills.

    On Monday, Sexton, a former housekeeper at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines, refused to drop a shotgun when confronted by Pinellas Park police after a rampage around his home. He was shot more than once and killed.

    If similar shootings are a guide, the killing will be ruled justified by prosecutors and internal affairs detectives because the officers who shot say they feared for their lives.

    But on Tuesday, Sexton's widow, Terry Sexton, questioned herself, and the officers' tactics. Worried about the neighbors' safety, Mrs. Sexton drove to the police station for help Monday after she heard her husband fire a gun inside a shed.

    "I'm thinking that I shouldn't have ever gone to the police," said Mrs. Sexton, 44. "I just keep going over it in my mind. I thought that they would help him. I didn't know that they would kill him."

    The officers who shot at Sexton -- Tai Ku, Scott Golczewski and Michael Bingnear -- are on paid administrative leave pending investigations by internal affairs and the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. They have not been involved in other shootings.

    Police refused to say Tuesday how many times Sexton, 48, was shot. A neighbor said he heard 12 to 15 gunshots during the 5:05 p.m. confrontation outside Sexton's house at 9030 55th Way N.

    Sexton's wife said she called her husband from work about noon Monday. He told her he was drinking coffee and watching a movie.

    She got home from work just after 4 p.m. and was inside their house 15 minutes when she heard a gunshot. Her husband was in the shed, where he enjoyed hanging out. She said she did not stop to talk to him and drove straight to the police station.

    "I was worried about the kids around here," Mrs. Sexton said. "I thought the police would just come and subdue him and take him to jail and get him some help."

    When she arrived at the station, police would not let her return home, she said. She said she did not see her husband before he died a few hours later at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

    "Ron, he's really a great guy," Mrs. Sexton said. "Everybody who knows him loves him. He's always helpful. Happy. Real sociable."

    Kenneth Blessing, a Pinellas Park police detective investigating the incident, said the events surrounding the shooting unfolded quickly. Police negotiators did not have a chance to get involved.

    When officers arrived, Sexton was walking from the house to the shed carrying the shotgun, Blessing said.

    Ku, one of the three officers who shot at Sexton, told him several times to drop the shotgun. Sexton refused, and the SWAT team was called in, even though Sexton had taken no hostages.

    Near the end of the 45-minute standoff, Sexton walked outside and rested the shotgun against a railing, Blessing said.

    Golczewski and Bingnear, the other officers involved in the shooting, approached from the side of the house.

    "For whatever reason, Mr. Sexton reached down, picked up the shotgun and aimed it at officers Golczewski and Bingnear, at which time all three officers opened fire," Blessing said.

    The officers did not have a choice, said Capt. Frank Holloway, who coordinates hostage negotiators for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

    Officers are taught to contain and negotiate with a person in distress, Holloway said. But all bets are off when the gunman tries to leave his property.

    "He sounds like he forced the issue," Holloway said.

    Sexton's wife said Tuesday that she understands the police had to protect the public.

    "But I don't think they had to shoot to kill," she said.

    She and Sexton met on a public bus while they both traveled to their factory jobs. They got married five years ago and struck luck in 1999.

    Sexton bought a scratch-off lottery ticket in Gulfport with the winning combination for the $1-million prize. He traveled to Tallahassee and collected the lump sum: $435,073.

    Mrs. Sexton said he spent most of his winnings on "having fun" and his hobbies, which included collecting Marilyn Monroe memorabilia.

    "I just never thought it would end like this," she said. "I thought we'd grow old together."

    -- Times staff researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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