POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A 20-year old Polk County man has been convicted of first-degree murder after he ran over a Polk City librarian in November 2020.
State Attorney Brian Haas said Elijah Stansell, who was then 18, was convicted by a Polk County jury on June 17 of first-degree murder.
“I’m very pleased with the verdict. It’s a tragic case. This woman was a pillar in the community, our victim and she was doing what any good parent would do,” said Haas.
Stansell and three other teenagers drove to the victim’s home to confront Suzette Penton’s son in Nov. 2020. According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Penton’s son had been in an ongoing dispute with a former girlfriend that got so bad that she was suspended from their high school.
On the day she was suspended, Judd said she gathered two friends, as well as her new boyfriend, Stansell, to go confront and beat up Penton’s son at his home.
Judd said Penton confronted the teens, including Stansell – who was in the driveway in what the state attorney called a “getaway van.”
Stansell ran Penton over and sped away. Penton died days later from her injuries.
“If you look at this case frame by frame, there were plenty of opportunities for him to do something other than deliberately run her over with the van,” said Haas.
Cell phone video shown in court and obtained by News Channel 8 captured the moments before, during and after the attack. After Stansell hit Penton, the people in the car are heard screaming.
“Elijah why’d you do that?” one person said.
“We *expletive* won though,” said a person believed to be Stansell, according to prosecutors. “Let’s get our story straight now.”
At the end of the video, the defendants realize they were recording and say they will delete the video.
They did not get the chance, Haas said, because a passerby was following them. He called 911 and law enforcement were able to stop the van.
“It didn’t give our defendant the opportunity to escape and fabricate evidence or destroy evidence like they were talking about doing,” said Haas.
Stansell will be sentenced later this year to a mandatory life sentence in prison.
His attorney Kevin Cox said he argued in court the death was an accident and Stansell has been remorseful ever since.
“Mr. Stansell did not intend to run this lady over. She stepped out in front his car and he didn’t see her,” he said.
He expects an appeal.
Stansell is the only teen charged with murder. The others are facing adult charges of accessory after the fact and burglary with assault.
The library where Penton worked is now called the “Suzette Penton Polk City Community Library.” The library clerk and Penton’s co-worker, Pam Peterson, said she thinks of Penton every day and her legacy lives on.
“People still get teary-eyed when they come up and see the name on the library so it’s pretty amazing,” said Peterson. “We try to keep it up. We’re trying our best to bring the summer program like she did it, I think we’re doing a fantastic job with it this year. We’ve had a lot of support.”
Stansell’s guilty verdict, Peterson said, is “justice served.”
“This conviction will hopefully help the difficult process of dealing with grief, loss, and healing for family and friends,” wrote Sheriff Grady Judd in a statement.