Judge denies woman's defense money for new investigation

Published Feb. 25, 2000|Updated Sept. 26, 2005

A woman seeking a reduced sentence for the stabbing death of her preacher husband lost a bid Thursday to get taxpayers to pay for the investigation she hopes will help get her out of prison early.

Now the only choice left for Carri Rousonelos, her attorney says, may be to withdraw her guilty plea on a manslaughter charge.

Prosecutors are almost daring her to do it.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce said he could not grant a request by Rousonelos for money to hire a psychologist to examine her and a forensic expert to look at evidence.

Luce said he could not give her what typically would amount to $1,000 or less because Rousonelos has not filed an appeal or a motion for a reduced sentence.

In a December plea agreement with prosecutors, Rousonelos, 36, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in return for a 12-year sentence. Now, she seeks a lesser sentence on the grounds she was mentally unstable at the time she attacked and killed her husband, Anthony Rousonelos.

Prosecutors argue she can't do that unless she withdraws her plea, which her attorney disputes.

Prosecutor Bill Loughery opposed the court giving Rousonelos any money.

"You can't have the taxpayers pay for you to go on a fishing expedition," Loughery said.

But John Trevena, Rousonelos' attorney, said he can't file a motion for a reduced sentence until the investigation is completed.

Trevena accused prosecutors of being "vindictive" against his client because she believes she was pressured into a plea deal so prosecutors could hide her potentially embarrassing affair with a Largo police officer.

Prosecutors say that is ludicrous. In fact, prosecutors are so enraged at the notion, they say they will not object to a plea withdrawal.

In a letter to Trevena, Loughery told the lawyer, "We encourage you to file a motion to withdraw the plea so we can erase this asinine conspiracy theory you've been propagating."

Loughery said in an interview he encouraged a plea withdrawal because "Trevena's put such a stink on this case ... So let's bring it into the sunshine" and go to trial.

If Rousonelos withdraws her plea, prosecutors will be free to charge her with either first- or second-degree murder, both punishable by life in prison.

Trevena said his client is still not sure she will withdraw her plea to manslaughter. But he said the odds are now greater that she will.

A March 9 hearing is scheduled before Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell at which Trevena plans to argue for a reduced sentence. He had planned to file a motion for a reduced sentence by that hearing date.

Now, Trevena said his plans are uncertain.

Rousonelos, meanwhile, said in an interview from the Pinellas County Jail that she feels her former lawyer, Kevin Hayslett, never conducted an adequate investigation of the case before she pleaded guilty.

Hayslett has denied her accusation.

"I felt like I was treated unjustly," Rousonelos said.

When her former attorney told her prosecutors were offering her 12 years, Rousonelos said she was stunned.

"I cried and I cried and I cried," she said. "I couldn't believe it because I had never been in trouble before."