LARGO — William Chad Routenberg's task seemed lofty.
Accused of murdering his former girlfriend, he was minutes from giving the critical opening statement at his own trial. He announced last week that, after going through three attorneys, he wanted to represent himself. He had been preparing for Wednesday's big moment for just six days.
But Routenberg's turn to speak came second. First, the jury of six had heard from prosecutor Della Connolly. She told them this:
In the summer of 2011, Routenberg stabbed his girlfriend in the neck. He put her body in a trash can. He called a friend and told him he had "done something real bad." He eventually told the friend that he had killed her. He showed the friend his bedroom, painted in blood. He borrowed some saw blades. He asked the friend to help him heft her body into the bathtub so he could cut it up. He threatened to kill the friend if he told anyone. He paid another friend to probe the back yard for plumbing pipes. He dug a 6-foot-deep hole. He tied his girlfriend's leg behind her head so she would fit. He buried her.
More than a month later — after the friend turned him in — Routenberg was arrested. He told detectives that he didn't know where she was, that she had left him, that she was with a former boyfriend. He suggested places for them to look. When detectives told him they had found the body, Connolly said, he acted shocked. Finally, she continued, Routenberg admitted that he killed his girlfriend, 24-year-old Shanessa Lynn Chappie, but he said she attacked him first. He had done it in self-defense.
"Ask yourself," Connolly told jurors, "if any of what he says is reasonable at all."
Routenberg looked confident as he approached the lectern. He wore a baggy, gray-striped button-down and sagging khaki pants with no belt. He spread out his papers and looked at the jurors. "We are here today for a very serious reason," he said. "The defendant is not going to deny that."
Over the next 20 minutes, Routenberg delivered a rambling, loosely organized series of broken thoughts and sentences. He denied threatening his friend and insisted he killed Chappie in self-defense, but otherwise didn't disagree with much of what Connolly had said.
Routenberg twice presented puzzling analogies to illustrate the complexities of his case.
"Your job here is not going to be as simple as the state outlined. Everything always has two sides," he said. "If you flip a coin, it's not going to land on heads every time. Every once in a while, it's going to hit tails."
"Don't rush to judgment," he said, "because sometimes you go to that car lot and you see a shiny car and you kick the tires. It looks all pretty, then you lift the hood and there's no engine."
Throughout, he referred to himself in the third person — "the defendant."
He's gone by that name before.
In 1990, at the age of 14, he raped an 11-year-old girl at his St. Petersburg middle school. A judge sent him to the Dozier School for Boys. There, Routenberg sexually assaulted a boy in a shower. Before sentencing Routenberg to life in prison in 1995, a judge told him: "You scare me to death."
An appeals court tossed out his life sentence. He was released by 2002, though he remained on probation. He had several run-ins with the law but avoided prison time.
On Wednesday, Routenberg seemed determined to keep avoiding it. "All I'm asking for you to do is consider the evidence," he said. "Consider the source of the evidence and then I have no doubt you will come back with a verdict of not guilty."