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Man gets life for attacking teenager

The man jumped from a van and put a stocking around a 13-year-old girl's throat. A prosecutor called him a "serial killer ready to happen.''

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 6, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Robert Emery Conner, the man convicted of trying to strangle a girl at a Hudson bus stop, was sentenced to life in prison Friday.

Conner, 34, was convicted in March on charges of kidnapping and attempted murder in connection with the February 1999 attack. On the kidnapping charge, Circuit Judge Craig C. Vilanti imposed the life sentence, plus another 25 years for the attempted murder charge.

"It appeared to me that this was a serial killer ready to happen," Pasco prosecutor Mike Halkitis told the Times, saying he was pleased with the sentence. In the attack, Conner jumped out of his van with pantyhose over his head, chased down a 13-year-old girl, and pulled a stocking around her throat. According to the prosecutor, a car with a loud muffler scared Conner off. The girl did not suffer serious physical injury.

Only hours after that attack, authorities say, Conner jumped out of his van again, wearing the stocking mask, and tried to attack a second girl. The girl outran him.

Halkitis said Conner had been scoping out the area around Hudson High School, looking for a victim. A school volunteer wrote down the license number of Conner's van, which led detectives to the mobile home where he lived alone.

Conner was originally charged with aggravated assault and false imprisonment. While he was free on bail, the Sheriff's Office arrested him on charges of indecent exposure after deputies say they caught him masturbating in his minivan while ogling a mother and daughter.

Conner's lawyer, Scott Miller, has argued his client did stupid things but did not mean to harm anyone. He was not pleased with the sentence. "In two words, I think it sucks," he told the Times. "It was a practical joke that went awry. A bad practical joke, but not something he deserved life for."

-- Staff writer Christopher Goffard covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is goffard@sptimes.com.

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