By the time deputies showed up, Anna Pehota couldn't remember what she and her husband had been arguing about when she shot him, she told deputies.
The Pehota house in the Hammock was always quiet, neighbors said. But it was chaos the afternoon of Sept. 23 as deputies ordered Anna Pehota, 75, out of the house and handcuffed her after she called 911 saying she’d shot her husband, John. Neighbors began to gather in the background, and the Pehotas’ Pomeranian dog, Elvis, slipped out of the home and began tearing across the street as deputies tried to catch it. Deputies let Pehota out of a patrol car, in handcuffs, so the dog would go to her.
It was the last time Pehota would see the dog, or her home, before deputies took her to the county jail and charged her with second-degree murder in her husband’s death.
“She slid down on the ground, and the dog went in her lap,” said neighbor Ruth Rupprecht, who took care of Elvis until the Pehotas’ children could take it. “She didn’t cry. No emotion. Like, nothing. No crying, yelling, screaming. It was weird.”
The scene seemed as incongruous as the crime, said Rupprecht, who’s known the Pehotas for about eight years, from conversations about shared interests like gardening and pets, and regular banter across the households’ shared fence.
“Nice man, nice couple — really shocking,” Rupprecht said.
Anna Pehota, a painter whose work once hung in Florida’s Supreme Court building, made a 911 call at about 4:32 p.m. Sept 23, telling a dispatcher she believed she’d shot and killed her husband, John, 77, over an argument at the couple’s mobile home at 132 Sanchez Ave. By the time deputies arrived, she couldn’t remember what the initial fight had been about.
Neighbors said John Pehota, who was known in the neighborhood as Jack, had dementia and other health problems that had worsened steadily over the past two years, decreasing his mobility. He couldn’t drive much, and walking was difficult. He had trouble holding a conversation. Anna was his caretaker.
The afternoon of the shooting, the couple had been arguing, according to Sheriff’s Office reports.
In her 911 call with a dispatcher, Anna Pehota “was crying hysterically, and stated several times that she shot her husband, and how could she do this,” according to an arrest report.
The dispatcher asked her why. “He kept pushing me mentally,” Pehota replied.
Pehota told a deputy that John had been “abusing her mentally,” according to the report, for many years, and that she’d been making dinner that evening when he said something to her that made her angry.
“She could not remember what it was, but it made her mad and caused her to break a dish in the kitchen,” a deputy wrote in the report. He continued to “provoke” her, Anna Pehota told deputies, and she went into her bedroom and got a .22 caliber long-barreled handgun and shot her husband multiple times as he stood next to the front door of the house. Anna Pehota told deputies she believed she’d shot him three times.
It was actually four, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said later, and deputies determined the shooting was “without provocation following an argument in the trailer.”
Deputies arrived at the home minutes after the 911 call.
Rupprecht was inside when she heard her dogs begin barking, and her daughter yelled that there was a cop at the side of the house, and a police cruiser with the lights on.
“The guy is like, squatted down, and the cops are down there, and I hear him saying, ‘Come out with your hands up, put the weapon down,’” Rupprecht said. “He kept repeating it. And I’m like, ‘What is going on here?’ And he goes, ‘Ma’am, you better get back in the house.’
The Rupprechts were incredulous when they saw deputies handcuff Anna Pehota.
Detectives detained Anna Pehota and began questioning her, but “she was unable to provide any further information as to what she and John were arguing about, and stated that she just couldn’t remember,” according to the report.
A BURDEN OF CARE
Rupprecht never saw any sign of trouble between the husband and wife, a couple she described as quiet and caring.
The two kept to themselves, but neighbors often saw Anna out riding her bicycle, clothed in bright reflective gear as she pedaled to the nearby Publix supermarket.
The couple did things for one another, Rupprecht said.
“He’d clean up the yard, (saying), ‘My wife likes this, my wife likes that.’ Or, she would go out in the backyard because he couldn’t, so she’s like, ‘I know that he wants the yard cleaned up.’ It was just thoughtful things. … They looked after each other.”
Anna Pehota loved Christmas trees, Rupprecht said, and the couple kept theirs up through February. The doted on their dog, Elvis, and at one point had a cat.
A couple of years ago, when he was more agile, John Pehota, who was “handy as can be,” built a shed in the backyard for Anna, Rupprecht said. “He was very proud of it. ... That was the last thing he did. He put that up, painted it, the wife picked the colors out. He did it for her. That was for her. He always did stuff for her.”
She’d seen John Pehota just that morning, as he took Elvis on his daily walk, a slow shuffle down the street.
“It was the same as usual, just almost our same conversation: ‘Beautiful day out, isn’t it lovely ... ’ Nothing out of the usual,” she said.
But recently, Rupprecht said, John had had increasing trouble holding a conversation. He’s get partway through, then wander off. It must have been stressful for Anna, Rupprecht said.
“When you have dementia in family members, it really is hard,” she said. “The poor thing. I really wish she had reached out to some of us. ... She’s not a cold-blooded murderer, she’s not like that, she’s not like a mean, evil person. She had a kind heart, a good heart, she was an artist, she was a good person. Something must have snapped. It really must have snapped.”