Defendant's sanity a focus as Publix murder trial starts
MARK DOUGLASCLEARWATER - After two days of jury selection and legal wrangling, attorneys in the Pinellas County murder trial of Arunya Rouch are getting down to the essential question in this case.
News Channel 8
Published: June 14, 2012
News Channel 8
Published: June 14, 2012
Was Rouch legally sane two years ago when authorities said she shot and killed co-worker Gregory Janowski in a Publix parking lot, hunted to kill other managers in the Tarpon Springs grocery store while terrorizing customers, and nearly died in a fierce gun battle with police?
"She knew right from wrong," prosecutor Fred Schaub said in his opening statement to the jury. "She knew to conceal that gun. She knew to hide that gun. … The defendant was sane at the time this offense was committed."
"It's all tragic," countered defense lawyer George Tragos in his opening remarks to the jury. "But it's just not sane. It doesn't make any sense."
Tragos said Rouch acted on her cultural instincts when she went on a deadly rampage hours after three Publix managers fired her for making death threats against Janowski three days earlier.
"She tells them that it means her death, but they don't care," said Tragos.
Tragos said the disgrace of losing her job became unbearable for the hard worker who emigrated from Thailand at age 25 after a difficult childhood marked by a suicide attempt.
"It's worse than death," Tragos said of her firing.
The defense lawyer said Rouch's firing is what made Rouch suddenly snap, go on a killing spree and attempt "suicide by cop" in her pitched gun battle with police that resulted in her nearly dying from four bullet wounds March 30, 2010.
Schaub said Rouch didn't suddenly lose her mind, she planned her killing spree and targeted her intended victims with rational precision.
"At some point in time she reloaded," Schaub said.
Schaub said 74-year-old co-worker Virginia Waller tried to wrestle the gun away from Rouch, saying "You don't want to do this." Schaub said Rouch pointed the gun at Waller's stomach, then took aim at her immediate supervisor, Ron Chmielorz, one of the managers who fired.
"He yelled at her, 'Don't do it,' " Schaub recounted. "She pulled the trigger, and it misfired."
Fortunate as that was for Chmielorz, Schaub said the luckiest man that day was store manager Mickey McPhee, who presided over her firing.
Schaub said she searched for McPhee in the store office the day of the shooting spree but happened to be away at a meeting to discuss sales strategies for Boar's Head meats.
Schaub said Rouch had no history of mental illness before the shootings and was not taking any psychiatric drugs at the time.
"The defendant is, in fact, sane," Schaub said.
No one disputes what Rouch did — there are dozens of witnesses and store surveillance cameras to establish the chain of events. The only issue raised by the defense is whether Rouch knew right from wrong at the time of the crimes, the legal test for insanity in a criminal case.
Defense lawyers said Rouch had been harassed and ridiculed prior to the shootings, that Janowski singled her out for scorn and made sure she was fired for making threats against him. Janowski's wife had been fired from Publix for threatening co-workers in an unrelated incident.
During her time as a seafood worker in the store, Tragos told the jury, Rouch had endured repeated humiliations from other Publix workers. He said co-workers called her "Chink" and "told her to get back in her hole." In one incident, he said "She's locked into a cooler with the lights turning on and off."
The insanity defense is seldom used in Florida courts and rarely succeeds when psychological experts hired by prosecutors and defense lawyers disagree, as they do in this case.
Tragos has to discredit the prosecutor's allegations that Rouch planned the deadly shooting with cold calculation, starting with her death threat to Janowski days earlier when he criticized her for working "off the clock."
The first witness, Publix co-worker Donald Frevold, told the jury Rouch ended her argument with Janowski three days before the shooting with an angry gesture in which she drew her finger across her throat.
" 'Where I come from, this is what they do to people like you,' " Frevold said, quoting Rouch. "And then she did that throat slash, and Janowski said, 'We'll see.' "
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