Sunday, February 18, 2018
News Roundup

Publix shooter case goes to jury after defense declines closing argument

ST. PETERSBURG — In a shocking strategic move, Arunya Rouch's defense attorney, George Tragos, elected not to give a closing argument in her murder trial.

The decision prevented the prosecution from giving the second — and likely most powerful — portion of its final address. Just before 4 p.m., a jury of nine women and three men received the case.

Assistant state attorney Tom Koskinas, who has assisted in the prosecution, earlier presented a small portion of the state's case against Rouch, but prosecutor Fred Schaub had planned on speaking to jurors for an hour after Tragos' concluding statements.

When Tragos realized Koskinas was mostly reviewing the case's basic facts, almost none of which the defense disputes, he decided not to address jurors, depriving Schaub from speaking last.

Tragos has told the court his client was insane at the time she fatally shot a Publix co-worker two years ago.

Schaub had intended to discuss the psychiatric portion of the state's case. He had prepared a Power Point presentation, assembled photographs of the victim and likely scripted a powerful emotional appeal to jurors.

They never saw or heard any of that.

"I believe the state did not even touch on the psychiatric testimony," Tragos said later. "I'd rather this jury remember it on their own rather than I tell them or have a prosecutor come after me."

Jurors heard this week from four doctors who analyzed Rouch's mental status. One hired by the defense said she was insane. Three hired by prosecutors said she wasn't.

While her mental state on the day of the killing has been sharply contested, what actually happened on March 30, 2010, is largely undisputed.

In the parking lot of a Tarpon Springs Publix, Janowski, 40, sat in a silver Honda smoking a cigarette. Wearing sunglasses and a dark sweatshirt, Rouch approached him and pointed a 9-mm pistol into the car's open window. She shot him four times. He died at the scene.

He worked in the meat department and she worked in seafood.

Her defense team has told jurors she was insane at the time, driven mad by months of teasing and bullying from Janowski.

In his brief argument Thursday afternoon, Koskinas vehemently denied that assertion. Rouch, he said, knew exactly what she was doing. One by one, he detailed her actions — and the intent behind them — in the days before and moments after the killing.

She threatened him three days earlier. She marked and "X" through his name on a schedule. She told another co-worker she would kill him. She apologized for the threats to her bosses before they fired her. She went home, changed her clothes and retrieved a gun. She later came back to the store and shot Janowski with precision. She hid the gun in a green Publix bag. She walked into the store, searching for others who had contributed to her firing. And, finally, she shot at and nearly killed two law enforcement officers who tried to stop her.

"She's reacting out of anger. She's reacting out of ego. She's reacting out of retaliation," Koskinas said. "And that's what this case is about."

Jurors have heard from four doctors this week. One hired by the defense said she was insane. Three hired by prosecutors said she wasn't.

Rouch can be sentenced to life if convicted on any one of three counts among the several with which she's been charged: first-degree murder or attempted murder of two law enforcement officers.

Her trial has been contentious and punctuated with lengthy delays. It was originally scheduled to end Friday.

Attorneys have lodged hundreds of objections and requested dozens of sidebars. Judge R. Timothy Peters' frustration with the constant interruptions has been obvious: He's rolled his eyes, shook his head, frequently sighed and, a few times, raised his voice at the lawyers.

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