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Lawyer says ex-Publix worker charged in shooting was temporarily insane

EDITOR'S NOTE: Correction notice appended below.

TARPON SPRINGS — Arunya Rouch, the woman accused of gunning down a co-worker outside a Publix, was insane at the time of the shooting, her attorney says in court documents.

And other new court records paint a vivid picture of the shootout inside the grocery, as Rouch roamed the store with a handgun tucked inside her green Publix shopping bag.

Rouch "suffered from a brief psychotic disorder at the time of the death of the victim in this case," the court papers say. Essentially, attorney George Tragos said in an interview, "she didn't know what she was doing."

Rouch was arrested in March after police said she approached co-worker Gregory Janowski in the Tarpon Springs Publix parking lot, and shot and killed him.

Tragos said Rouch was under stress and felt "humiliated and embarrassed" because she had been fired for threatening Janowski.

Tragos said Rouch felt "very harassed by a fellow employee and it just caused her to snap." He did not identify the employee. Friends and family members of Janowski have objected to any portrayal of Rouch as a victim.

The court papers list a doctor who will testify for the defense about Rouch's mental condition, Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub said prosecutors would likely contact a doctor for another evaluation.

The insanity defense is "very rarely pleaded and it's very rarely successful," said professor Robert Batey of the Stetson University College of Law.

To succeed, attorneys must prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that their client did not know he or she was doing anything wrong at the time of the crime, because of some mental illness or defect, Batey said.

"Most defense attorneys consider it a plea of last resort, when you have nothing else," he added.

• • •

It was a strange sight outside of Publix the morning of March 30: a woman standing in the parking lot with a gun, which she seemed to be pointing at a car, or maybe at gulls in the distance.

That was the scene witnessed by Heather Braga, an employee of a hair salon next to the Publix. Her comments are included in court records, along with depositions of other witnesses and police.

One of her co-workers, Gina Greco, saw the scene, too. She knew who Rouch was because she had cut her husband's hair before. And now, she said in her deposition: "I saw her take the gun and aim it to the window and fire into the window of the vehicle."

Those were the shots, authorities say, that killed Rouch's co-worker Janowski. Next, Rouch slipped the gun back into her green Publix bag.

And went into the store.

• • •

Earlier on this morning, Ronald Chmielorz, meat manager for the Publix store, had been in a meeting with Rouch. At the meeting, a different manager told Rouch she was being fired for having recently threatened Janowski.

Chmielorz had recently warned Rouch not to work "off the clock," and she reportedly told him, "it's my culture."

At the time the shots were ringing out in the parking lot, Chmielorz had gone out the back of the store to help with a meat delivery. Two workers came up to say Rouch had come back into the store, carrying a gun. Chmielorz rushed back in.

Inside, he saw Rouch struggling with another employee, 72-year-old Virginia Wahler. "Virginia had Arunya in a headlock," he said. "I noticed that Arunya had a semiautomatic weapon at her side." He stepped up to help Wahler. But then, "Arunya broke loose."

So he started backing up, and "Arunya started coming after me with the gun at head level. … She's probably 5 feet from me, the gun at my head, I see a live round get discharged."

He figured the bullet misfired. So "I bolted as fast as I could" and went out back, telling other workers to leave the store, too. He tried to punch 911 into his phone, but couldn't dial in the bright sunlight.

• • •

But 911 already had been called. Tarpon Springs police Sgt. Michael Trill heard the radio traffic and went to Publix, entering with Officer Clyde Thornton. This was after the shooting in the parking lot, but people were still shopping inside. "I began to yell for the evacuation," he said. The officers moved carefully along the store, from one end of an aisle to the next.

From Aisle 7, Trill saw Rouch coming out from Aisle 10, carrying a green bag.

Trill called for her to show her hands. Instead, "she went back, produced a gun at us, and shot." One of the bullets ended up in a silverware display.

Trill fired back through the end cap — the end of the aisle, which contained shelves of Triscuits — in Rouch's direction. He couldn't see her, but "I remember hearing her make a noise after I shot a round through the aisle." And then he heard metal hit the ground.

He looked around the end of the aisle, and he could see she had slumped to the ground. But then, "she brought the gun up and tried to shoot me in the face. As I popped back, she fired off a round." He fired two rounds that he said went through a garbage can and into Rouch.

He moved closer. Although he normally avoids touching guns at crime scenes, "she tried to kill me once, she tried to kill me twice, I wasn't going to let her get a third chance to try to kill me. I took my foot and I moved the gun away."

Rouch, who was treated for her wounds at Bayfront Medical Center, is at the Pinellas County Jail awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.

Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or ckrueger@sptimes.com.

CORRECTION: Stetson University College of Law professor Robert Batey's name was misspelled in earlier versions of this article appearing in print and online.

>> On the web

See the scene

To watch store surveillance video of the Publix shooting, go to links.tampabay.com

Lawyer says ex-Publix worker charged in shooting was temporarily insane 12/19/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 20, 2010 4:26pm]
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