ST. PETERSBURG — Thomas Rouch sat alone at a round table in the courtroom cafeteria, the smell of coffee and corn chowder all around him. His shirt's top button was undone, his tie loose, his jaw clenched. He thumbed through a yellow pamphlet covered in bold black letters: "Taking the Scare Out of Auto Repair."
The booklet was just a distraction. Upstairs, his wife, Arunya Rouch, was on trial for first-degree murder. He would be the last witness to take the stand in her defense, to tell jurors she must have been insane when she shot a co-worker four times two years ago, to insist the woman he'd loved for more than a decade was no cold-blooded murderer.
He expected to testify last week, then Tuesday morning, then Tuesday afternoon. Finally, at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, a bailiff called his name.
Other than family, Thomas Rouch told jurors, nothing meant more to his wife than her job in the seafood department at a Publix in Tarpon Springs
Around late 2009, she began complaining to her husband about a meat cutter named Gregory Janowski. He picked on her, Thomas Rouch testified. He teased her, criticized her work and told her to "get back in her hole."
"She was very upset about it," Thomas Rouch said. "She would cry. She would ask, 'Why won't he leave me alone?' "
Arunya Rouch, at times, told her husband she was "mentally sick" and depressed about the constant taunting.
In March 2010, he confronted Janowski. Thomas Rouch was bringing medication to his wife at work when he saw Janowski near the entrance.
"Greg, why can't you leave my wife alone? She's never done anything to you," Thomas Rouch recalled. "He looked at me, laughed and walked away."
Days later, Thomas Rouch talked to Publix managers where he worked in Crystal Beach. He wanted his wife to transfer there to work with him. They liked the idea, he said.
The weekend before the shooting, Arunya Rouch seemed normal and happy, he said. They went shopping at a nearby Vietnamese flea market. She got a new haircut. She made a cake for the first time and covered it in syrup and cocoa.
On March 30, 2010, they had breakfast together. She was excited about leaving her store. The couple planned on sharing steaks and beer that night.
Then, around noon, a manager at Thomas Rouch's store told him to call Tarpon Springs police. His wife had shot Janowski.
"All along," he said, "I didn't believe that."
He sped to the store, arriving just as she was being lifted into a helicopter.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Fred Schaub asked Thomas Rouch if it was surprising that his wife had killed someone.
"Yes, it was," he told the court. "It still is."
At the defense table, Arunya Rouch pulled off her dark-rimmed glasses and set them down. She pressed a tissue against her eyes.
After more than an hour of testimony, Thomas Rouch told the court he still didn't understand why his wife had done what she did. Simply, he said, she must have snapped.
When the judge dismissed him, he stepped down from the witness stand. He glanced at his wife and pressed his hands together beneath his chin, as if to pray.
He was the defense's last witness.
Prosecutors then called two doctors to refute a defense expert who said Arunya Rouch was insane at the time of the shootings. The prosecution's experts testified that she knew right from wrong at the time of the killing. A third doctor likely will say the same thing today before attorneys make their final arguments and the case goes to the jury.
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.