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Notorious Pinellas sex offender killed girlfriend then buried body in back yard, authorities say

LARGO — William Chad Routenberg was labeled a sex offender at 14 years old after he raped a girl at his St. Petersburg middle school in 1990.

A judge sent him to the Dozier School for Boys for treatment.

There, Routenberg sexually assaulted a young boy in a shower. He was hauled back to court, where a prosecutor called him a "one of the scariest individuals we have ever had in this county."

Before sentencing Routenberg to life in prison in 1995, a judge told him: "You scare me to death."

But an appeals court tossed out Routenberg's life sentence. He was out of prison by 2002, though he remained on probation. He had several run-ins with the law, but every time avoided going back to prison.

This week, Pinellas deputies summoned to Routenberg's home discovered what they say is his worse crime yet:

He had killed his girlfriend, then buried her body in his back yard.

• • •

Routenberg, 35, was arrested Friday on a charge of first-degree murder as well as possession of cocaine and OxyContin.

The night before, Pinellas deputies dug up the body of Shanessa Lynn Chappie, 24. Family and friends hadn't seen or heard from her in about a month, said sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nestor.

"She was not reported missing, so it wasn't on anybody's radar," Nestor said. "They didn't suspect anything. It's a sad case."

The couple lived together at 6217 148th Ave. N in the High Point area east of U.S. 19 and north of Ulmerton Road.

"There were a lot of arguments going on there all the time," said William Harper, 67, who has lived in the neighborhood for two decades. "A lot of people were going in and out."

Earlier this week, authorities followed up on information that Routenberg was selling drugs out of the home. Narcotics detectives had even made a few undercover buys.

Then, late Wednesday afternoon, authorities got a more disturbing tip about the house.

"The information that they got was that there had been a murder there," Nestor said. "It evolved quickly. Detectives went 48 hours straight without sleep. They worked nonstop on this."

Routenberg was at home when detectives showed up with a search warrant Thursday night.

Eventually, detectives came across a depression in the back yard.

"That seemed suspicious and they started digging," Nestor said.

Chappie's body was found a short time later.

Routenberg admitted to detectives that he killed Chappie during an argument more than a month ago, Nestor said.

Her family could not be reached for comment Friday. Her body was sent to the Medical Examiner's Office to determine exactly when and how she died.

• • •

Routenberg once was known as a polite and respectful kid who liked stuffed animals and helped out in the office at Riviera Middle School.

But in 1990, at 14, Routenberg raped an 11-year-old girl in a school stairwell. The crime shocked the community and galvanized a push for better security in public schools.

In court, a therapist testified that Routenberg had been molested at a young age.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Claire Luten sentenced him to six years in prison, but a month later she recommended that he be sent to the Dozier School for Boys. Officials believed the reform school's intensive counseling and education would help him.

"I think the thought was, the 14-year-old did not belong in the Department of Corrections," said attorney J. Andrew Press, who represented Routenberg in the 1990 case. "I don't think that you make an assumption a 14-year-old is toast and doesn't deserve a second chance."

Luten came to regret her decision. In 1993 Routenberg pleaded guilty to committing a lewd and lascivious act on a fellow student at Dozier, which has since been the subject of media reports documenting excessive abuse by staff members.

Dismayed by his behavior, Luten later sentenced Routenberg, then 19, to life in prison.

"I don't know whether it's legal or not," she said at the time.

It wasn't. After an appeals court struck down that sentence, Routenberg was sentenced to 17 years, followed by 23 years of probation.

He was released from prison in 2002. He was twice accused of violating his probation, which could have returned him to prison. But Routenberg avoided prison both times.

In 2005 marijuana turned up in a urine test. He admitted the violation and was given the more intensive drug offender probation, requiring additional drug evaluations and counseling.

Four years later, he was accused of violating probation after he was arrested on a domestic battery charge. But prosecutors decided not to formally charge him after the victim made inconsistent statements, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said. So that violation was dropped, too.

Over the years, there were mixed reports on his progress.

In a 2005 report from the "Intensive Treatment Modalities out-patient sex offender treatment group," a therapist said Routenberg "is marginally productive in group, seldom accepts responsibilities for his problem and seldom recognizes the need for treatment. … He only started treatment in January of this year and missed his first two scheduled group meetings."

In November 2009 his attorney asked to have him released early from probation, saying "he has completed eight years of probation and more importantly, he has successfully completed the sexual offender group."

The request was denied.

Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery, who prosecuted Routenberg in the 1990s, said he's one of the most dangerous people he has seen.

"He wasn't normal, and it wasn't the kind of thing you grow out of," Loughery said.

"It's not that much of a leap to go from dominating strangers to dominating someone you know," Loughery said of the accusation that Routenberg killed his girlfriend.

On Friday afternoon, a large hole remained in the back yard at Routenberg's home. A rear entry door was off its hinges. Rummage cluttered the yard.

"I'm shocked. I can't say 'oh that's expected.' I don't feel that way," said Press. "I will say, I know that the original trial judge had grave concerns about his future."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8643.

William Chad Routenberg's criminal history

1990: At age 14, rapes an 11-year-old girl in a stairwell at Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg. Pinellas-Pasco Judge Claire Luten sentences him to six years in prison and 10 years of probation, then orders that he be sent to the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna for treatment.

1993: Pleads guilty to lewd and lascivious conduct for assaulting a boy in a shower at Dozier. Receives five years' probation.

1994: He is released from Dozier, but a judge sends him back, saying the school violated a court order by releasing him, and Routenberg is "severely disturbed."

1995: Pleads guilty to violation of probation because of the lewd and lascivious charge at Dozier. Luten sentences Routenberg, 19, to life in prison, saying: "You scare me to death." After an appeal, Routenberg is resentenced to 17 years in prison followed by 23 years of probation.

2002: He is released from prison.

2005: He is accused of violating his probation by using marijuana. He is put on a more intense, drug offender probation.

2009: He is arrested on charges of aggravated battery on a pregnant woman and violating probation. The charge was dropped.

Friday: He is charged with first-degree murder.

Sources: Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Pinellas County court records, St. Petersburg Times files

Notorious Pinellas sex offender killed girlfriend then buried body in back yard, authorities say 07/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 2, 2011 12:40am]

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