William Routenberg, a convicted child rapist who’s been lucky in the criminal justice system over the last 23 years, is putting his fate in his own hands this week as he stands trial for murder.
Routenberg, 37, is acting as his own defense attorney in a case in which he’s accused of fatally stabbing his girlfriend in 2011 before burying her in his backyard. If convicted, he faces a possible life sentence.
“We are here today for a very serious reason,” Routenberg told jurors Wednesday, delivering his opening statement as his second-degree murder trial began in earnest.
Routenberg was charged on July 1, 2011, in the death of 24-year-old Shanessa Lynn Chappie a day after her body was discovered in his backyard at 6217 148th Ave. N. Six to eight weeks before, the two had argued over drugs in the bedroom they shared, and Routenberg stabbed her in the neck, an arrest affidavit says.
At first, Routenberg enlisted a friend to search for a place to dump the body but then simply decided to bury it, Assistant State Attorney Della Connolly told jurors Wednesday.
Routenberg and his friend, Christopher Walker, borrowed some shovels and, and then Routenberg asked Walker to help him carve the body up in the bathroom, Connolly said. Walker wanted out at that point, even though Routenberg threatened him, she said.
Routenberg then enlisted a friend who does plumbing work to come over to the house and show him where he could dig a hole in the backyard without hitting any utility lines, Connolly said. Routenberg dug a six-foot hole by himself and hog-tied Chappie with a shoe string so she would fit in it, the prosecutor said.
Walker eventually tipped off authorities, who discovered Chappie’s body. Routenberg agreed to be interviewed but constantly changed his story, Connolly said. At first, he said he thought Chappie was alive; but when told her body had been discovered, he said he killed her in self-defense after she attacked him.
In his address to jurors, Routenberg attacked many of Connolly’s assertions. He said, for instance, that he never threatened Walker because he considered him a good friend, and he criticized the investigator who interviewed him for not being completely honest about what was known.
Wearing a striped shirt and a pair of khakis, Routenberg paced back and forth while addressing the jury and, at one point, stopped to drink water from a paper cup. He referred himself in the third person.
“The defendant is not obligated to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this is a self-defense claim,” he said.
Routenberg told jurors it was prosecutors’ job to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Chappie wasn’t killed in self defense.
“So I do ask the jury to keep an open mind, and not just to keep an open mind but to not make any decisions until you’ve heard all the testimony,” he said. “If you flip a coin, it’s not gonna land on heads every time.”
Routenberg’s past crimes are not likely to be introduced during his murder trial because they go beyond the scope of the accusations against him.
If, however, he brings them up as he acts as his own attorney, he could open the door for prosecutors to bring up his past actions before the jury.
In 1990, when Routenberg was 14, he was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl in the hallway of the now-closed Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg, between sixth and seventh periods. She was the last of nine girls prosecutors said Routenberg had raped, molested or inappropriately touched by then, according to court documents.
Circuit Judge Claire Luten sentenced Routenberg to six years in prison, but she allowed him to be transferred from the state prison system to the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School School for Boys, court records show.
But Routenberg didn’t thrive at the Dozier school, court records show. He was accused of inappropriately touching his mother, grandmother and a female staff member.
Routenberg was released from the school in December of 1993 but was later convicted of engaging in lewd and lascivious conduct with a boy at the school earlier that year.
A hearing was held the following year to determine his sentence.
“If he gets out on the street, it’s not a matter of who’s going to be the next victim; it’s just going to be when and where,” Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery told Luten.
“This is one of the scariest individuals that we’ve had in this county.”
Four days later, on June 19, 1995, Luten announced her decision.
“You scare me to death,” she told Routenberg in court. “I have been frightened of you since the first day you appeared in my courtroom.”
She sentenced him to life. But the Second District Court of Appeal overturned the sentence, saying it was too harsh. Routenberg was eventually sentenced to the maximum 17 years allowed under sentencing guidelines, with a probation period of 23 years to follow.
He was released in 2002, according to the state Department of Corrections. He was charged with violating his probation in 2005 for marijuana use. As a result, the terms were changed so he could serve his probation as a drug offender.
Routenberg was arrested again in 2009, accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend while trying to take away her cell phone.
By virtue of the new criminal charge, he was accused of violating his probation. The next month, that charge along with a charge of aggravated battery on a pregnant woman was dropped. Routenberg was judged not to be a danger to the community.
Chappie apparently was lying in Routenberg’s backyard while Pinellas County Sheriff’s narcotics detectives were eyeing him as a suspected drug dealer, even sending a confidential informant into the house to buy cocaine and Oxycodone from him, according to court records. But neither narcotics nor homicide detectives knew what had happened to Chappie until Walker came forward.
Just as the jury won’t hear of Routenberg’s sex crimes, jurors won’t hear of the narcotics investigation, unless Routenberg decides to bring them up.