Justyn Pennell is a 21-year-old Hudson, Florida man who is accused of purposely running over and killing a 75-year-old Vietnam War veteran after plotting for months to find a random person to kill, authorities say.
The Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco did not mince words when talking about Pennell in a press conference. “This man is absolutely evil,” the sheriff said. Pennell’s now charged with first-degree intentional homicide. “It was almost for him pleasurable the fact he intentionally did this,” said the sheriff. “He did what he wanted to do.”
“He told us that he had planned this for several months,” said Sgt. Michael Rosa. “That he wanted to kill somebody, and that day he left his home with the intent to go find somebody to run them over and kill them…The victim was a random victim.”
Nocco also said that some motorists may have taken photos as the victim’s body lay on the side of the road without stopping to help.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Authorities Say Pennell Was ‘Evil’ & Ran Over the Victim After Seeing Him Walking Down the Roadway With Walking Sticks
Around 2:30 p.m. on January 9, 2020, Pennell got in his PT cruiser and “he starts doing some errands. But there’s something about Justin, that we find out that brings out that pure evilness,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco in the press conference.
“He had a plan for several months and he’s been thinking about it that he wanted to kill somebody.”
The sheriff said that Pennell encountered the victim at the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and Aripeka Road. “He sees our victim who’s walking by himself on the side of the road, and he’s walking with wooden walking sticks. He’s going down the street with a wooden walking stick; the suspect sees him. The suspect drives past him, intentionally makes a U turn, goes toward the victim and starts accelerating at a high rate of speed,” said Nocco.
Horrifically, as Pennell drove at the victim, he later confessed that “he can see the look of fright on the victim’s face, he can see that fear, he can see the emotion of this person’s about to hit me,” the sheriff said. “The victim tries to get out of the way. The suspect intentionally runs him over and hits him.”
2. The Victim Was a Father, Grandfather & Vietnam War Veteran; the Suspect Posted a Photo on Facebook Showing Himself in a Military Uniform
“Our victim was very loved. He was down in Florida for some warm weather. He was a retired vet. He lives here full time,” said Sgt. Michael Rosa.
Nocco described the victim as “a 75 year old man. A father. Grandfather, Vietnam War Army veteran who was killed.”
The victim’s name hasn’t been released. “He was walking on the roadway,” said Rosa. “Our defendant increased his speed and ran him over.” He said that authorities are now searching the suspect’s vehicle and electronic devices.
Pennell shared a photo on Facebook in a military uniform, but a relative wrote on social media that he allegedly was upset because the Army didn’t want him. Heavy.com has reached out to the military for Pennell’s service history, if any. On Facebook, he wrote that he was single, went to Hudson High School, lives in Hudson, and was from Lake Worth, Florida.
He had a Twitter page but only 1 follower, a gaming site. The page has only a couple tweets, including this one from 2016:
Hudson, Florida is located about 50 minutes from Tampa.
3. Pennell, Who Had No Past Arrests, Has a Disturbing Graphic on His Facebook Page
The cover photo on Pennell’s Facebook page reads, “You can run, but you’ll just die there.” He also has a graphic of a dragon. Other than that, his page – at least what’s visible – contains innocuous photos of himself.
The suspect is originally from Florida, Rosa said. “He was calm during that interview, confessed everything, appeared very lucid and didn’t appear to be under the influence of anything,” he said of Pennell. “He was able to answer every question we asked him.”
Rosa said that Pennell “had two reports in our system. One was a runaway. He had never been arrested before this incident.”
He said that Pennell had “planned this for several months,” adding, “I have never worked a case where someone planned to actually go out and look for a victim.”
4. The Suspect Called 911 Himself
After hitting the victim, the suspect called 911 himself, Nocco said in the news conference. His vehicle was damaged and broke down after the impact.
“He calls 911 and the dispatcher gets a confession from him on tape,” the sheriff said. “He absolutely admits to our deputies that he has the intention to kill somebody and it just happens to be this 75 year old.”
His likes on Facebook included movies like Terminator, the Expendables, and Rambo. He also showed an interest in video games, such as King of Avalon.
5. Some Citizens Possibly Took Photographs Without Stopped to Help the Victim, Authorities Say
The sheriff said authorities need the public’s help. That’s because they have information that some people saw the victim’s body along the side of the road, and took photographs, but they didn’t stop to help.
“You talk about evil in this world – the greatest sin is the indifference of good men and women,” the sheriff said.
“One witness who called us from the side of the road, said this is what happened, there’s a body at the side of the road. Other people drove up and witnesses possibly took photographs and drove off. If you’re one of those men or women that was a witness please contact the Pasco Sheriff’s office.”
The sheriff added: We have a very strong case, but we have to bring as much justice as we can for this victim. We just want to find out what happened, what you saw.” He added: “If you see something horrific like this, don’t stop and drive off, stop and help. We need people to do the right thing.”
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