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Man pleads guilty to manslaughter in roommate's 2016 death

Posted at 10:16 AM, Feb 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-24 01:43:57-04

An Arizona man, who tweeted that he needed to move out of the home where he was living before he killed his roommates, is awaiting sentencing after having pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the subsequent shooting death of the owner of the suburban Phoenix house.

Zachary Dale Penton, 23, was originally charged with second-degree murder in the August 2016 fatal shooting of 41-year-old Danny Garofalo. The plea deal made in February to the lesser charge of manslaughter doesn't recommend a sentence for Penton, who faces seven to 21 years in prison.

Penton, a convenience store manager who had lived in the suburban Gilbert home for two months, told investigators that a struggle broke out when Garofalo, who lived in the house, came into his bedroom and told Penton he had to move out. Penton said he was acting in self-defense after Garofalo tackled him, took away his phone and threatened to kill him.

Penton told police that he then reached under his pillow for his loaded semi-automatic handgun and opened fire after Garofalo frightened him by speaking irrationally. Garofalo suffered two gunshot wounds to the torso. Penton then called 911 to report the shooting.

Prosecutors have said Penton, who was not hurt, could have run away or called for help rather than shoot the unarmed Garofalo.

"My son was not a violent man. You can talk to anybody that knew him Danny was not violent he was a love he brightened up the room when he walked in," said Dennis Garofalo, the victim's father, in a 2016 interview with ABC15.

In the months before the shooting, Penton tweeted several posts that mentioned guns.

The posts included comments on the ease of buying a gun and asked friends whether anyone wanted to go shooting on a particular day. Another post -- perhaps made in jest -- said Penton was forced at gunpoint to download a fast-food restaurant's app.

"I need to move out of my place before I viciously murder my roommates," Penton wrote two days before Garofalo was killed.

Penton's attorney, Joshua Davidson, told The Associated Press in an email that the posts were not an indication that his client planned to shoot Garofalo.

"The social media posts attributed to Mr. Penton amount to nothing more than hyperbolic expressions of frustration and in no way reflect premeditation or an intent to harm," Davidson said, adding prosecutors did not file any charges that alleged his client acted with premeditation.

Amanda Jacinto, a spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Attorney's office, which prosecuted Penton, declined to comment on the guilty plea.

While awaiting Penton's sentencing, the Garofalo family feels they will never truly have justice for their son's death. 

"I can't get him out of my mind," said Dennis Garofalo. "My son is my life. My son was my life."

Danny's parents, Dennis and Barbara, have now made their third trip to Arizona from Florida. 

They pleaded with the judge about their son's killer.

"Put him away for as long as you can," Dennis Garofalo said to the judge. 

"This was premeditated, without a doubt," said Barbara Garofalo. "I think he should have gotten life. I really do."

Danny Garofalo also leaves behind a son. 

"Anthony, his 13-year-old son, has lost his dad forever," said Barbara Garofalo. 

Penton and another roommate told investigators that Garofalo acted bizarrely in the weeks before the shooting -- talking about black holes and being on top of pyramids. He threw silverware around the home on the day before the shooting, they said.

Toxicology results showed Garofalo had traces of methamphetamine in his blood.

The Garofalo family says they were extremely disappointed the sentencing was postponed until next month. They don't know if they will be able to make a fourth trip out to Arizona from Florida in such a short amount of time.