Sunday, June 24, 2018
News Roundup

Green grocery bag shows Publix shooter's state of mind, prosecution says

LARGO — Prosecutor Fred Schaub held a 9mm pistol above his head.

This, he told jurors in a Pinellas courtroom Friday afternoon, was the weapon Arunya Rouch used to kill Gregory Janowski in a Tarpon Springs Publix parking lot two years ago.

Janowski's daughter, Jade, dressed in black, quietly sobbed in the front row. Her nails painted a deep red, she wiped away tears with her fingers. Family members passed over tissues.

In many trials, the murder weapon's unveiling is the moment. The prosecutor holds up the gun. Sometimes cocks it. Sometimes re-enacts the shots. The courtroom falls silent. The crime becomes real.

But Rouch's trial is not like most. She doesn't deny killing Janowski. But Rouch says she was insane at the time and didn't know what she was doing.

And that's why the next piece of evidence Schaub held up — the green Publix bag in which Rouch carried the gun — may be the most important.

A hand-length slit, Schaub noted, was cut into the bag's side. The morning of the killing, Rouch was fired from her job at Publix for threatening to kill Janowski days earlier. She then went home, authorities say, and doctored the bag to make it easier for her to access the weapon.

That decision, prosecutors have argued, proves she knew what she was doing.

Friday morning, Schaub tried to further illustrate the argument with a pair of witnesses who saw Rouch that day two years ago.

After Rouch shot Janowski, she tucked the pistol into the bag and entered the store.

When Publix clerk Virginia Wahler first spotted Rouch, she didn't know what had happened in the parking lot. Wahler only knew that Rouch had a gun.

"Hi, Arunya," Wahler said, putting her arm around Rouch.

"Hi, Virginia," Rouch said, returning the hug.

"How you doing, baby?"

"Okay."

"C'mon baby, don't do this," Wahler said. "Don't ruin your life and everybody else's."

Then, suddenly, Wahler wrapped her arm around Rouch's neck and went for the gun.

Rouch pulled her hand out, Wahler told the court, and pressed the firearm against Wahler's stomach.

"Let me go," she said Rouch told her, "or I'll kill you."

Ronald Chmielorz, Rouch's former boss, saw the struggle and walked over to help. Then Rouch broke free.

She pointed the gun at him.

"I believe she pulled the trigger," he told jurors. "I see a bullet eject. I don't know why it didn't go off."

Tarpon Springs police descended on the store. Rouch fired several rounds at them before a sergeant shot her four times.

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