William Chad Routenberg went through three defense attorneys before advising a Pinellas County court that he would represent himself in a first-degree murder trial. The trial started this week. Routenberg claims admits killing his girlfriend in 2011 but claims it was done in self-defense.
The prosecutor told the jury that Routenberg stabbed Shanessa Lynn Chappie in the neck about 18 months ago. He put her body in a trash can. He eventually told a friend that he had killed her. Then, according to the state, Routenberg asked the friend to help him lift Chappie’s body into the bathtub so he could cut it up, threatening to kill the friend if he told anyone. He allegedly paid another friend to locate any underground pipes in the backyard before he dug a 6-foot-deep hole and buried Chappie in it.
The friend ultimately turned Routenberg in. After being arrested, Routenberg denied knowing where Chappie was, suggesting places to look. When detectives told him they had found the body, he reportedly acted shocked before admitting that he killed Chappie. He said she attacked him first and his actions were in self-defense.
In his opening statement to the jury, Routenberg denied threatening his friend and insisted he killed Chappie in self-defense, but otherwise didn’t disagree with much of what the prosecutor stated.
Media reports indicate that Routenberg referred to himself in the third person – “the defendant” – throughout his opening statement.
Though the jury is unlikely to hear evidence of Routenberg’s criminal history while contemplating whether to return a guilty or not guilty verdict, it is apparently substantial. According to media reports, Routenberg raped another middle school student when he was 14. At that time, a juvenile court judge sentenced him to what is known colloquially as a reform school. While there, he sexually assaulted another student in the shower.
He was sentenced to life in prison for the second crime. An appeals court later reversed that sentence. He was ultimately sentenced to 17 years in prison to be followed by 23 years of probation. Routenberg was released from prison in 2002.