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Woman convicted of 2015 love-triangle murder is seeking a new trial

Priscilla Dawn Houck, now 40, of St. Petersburg, was convicted of first-degree murder last month in the 2015 shooting death of Christopher Wayne Rotenberger, 24, of Seminole. Now her attorneys are asking for a new trial. [Courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office]
Priscilla Dawn Houck, now 40, of St. Petersburg, was convicted of first-degree murder last month in the 2015 shooting death of Christopher Wayne Rotenberger, 24, of Seminole. Now her attorneys are asking for a new trial. [Courtesy of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office]
Published Dec. 31, 2018

A woman accused of killing a man who was in a relationship with her girlfriend was convicted on a charge of first-degree murder this month.

But soon after the Dec. 14 verdict, her lawyers asked for a new trial.

A jury found Priscilla Dawn Houck, now 40, of St. Petersburg guilty of murdering 24-year-old Christopher Wayne Rotenberger in 2015. Now a judge will hear arguments this week on the motion for a new trial, after which she will decide if Houck should serve her lifetime prison sentence or be given another chance at acquittal.

Houck and Rotenberger were two sides of a love triangle, both in romantic relationships with Stephanie Dalrymple, now 26, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Dalrymple was carrying Rotenberger's child.

Houck began plotting to kill Rotenberger days in advance after she discovered Dalrymple's pregnancy, detectives said. She researched on the Internet how to buy a gun without a background check.

She met a man who sold her a gun for $200, which Houck paid for in $20 bills, deputies said. Phone and bank records show Houck withdrew that amount of money about a half hour after speaking with the gun seller.

Days later, on Nov. 11, 2015, she shot and killed Rotenberger outside his home on Flamevine Avenue near Seminole, according to deputies. He died of a gunshot wound to the head.

Detectives arrested Houck on March 3, 2017, about 16 months after Rotenberger's death. In Houck's arrest report, detectives wrote that several things pointed toward her:

The man who sold her the gun told detectives about the transaction, and expressed concern to Houck that he could be linked to the shooting. Houck told him not to worry because the gun was already gone.

Also, Houck told someone Rotenberger had been shot before the Sheriff's Office had released any information about how he died. Additionally, Houck's roommates said she was not at home the night of Rotenberger's death and that she asked them to provide an alibi for her.

In the Dec. 20 motion, public defender Aimee Wyant wrote that the guilty verdict was "contrary to the law or the weight of the evidence," in part because "there was no evidence introduced at trial that (Houck) was present at the scene of the crime."

Wyant also took issue with Pinellas-Pasco Judge Chris Helinger's admission of certain evidence, including text messages between Houck and Dalrymple, posts from Houck's Facebook page and an Internet article about an arrest being made in a fatal St. Petersburg robbery.

The hearing where Houck's laywers will argue for a new trial before Helinger is set for Wednesday.

Contact Josh Solomon at jsolomon@tampabay.com or (813) 909-4613. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.