The best friend and co-worker of the woman accused of murdering a Publix employee said Arunya Rouch was harassed and subjected to a racial slur while on the job.
Renee Pallante, testifying at Rouch’s murder trial, said Tuesday that Gregory Janowski argued with Rouch often while they worked together at the supermarket.
"He said he was going to get that chink fired," Pallante said.
Rouch, 44, is charged with shooting Janowski at point blank range on March 30, 2010, at the Tarpon Springs Publix where they both worked.
"They were calling her a chink in the back room and telling her to do her ninja moves on people," Pallante said. "Teasing her, saying she looked like a boy with her new haircut," she said. Rouch is of Thai descent.
The testimony was part of the defense strategy to show that Rouch was in a stressed state of mind the day she was fired from her job and allegedly killed Janowski five hours later.
The defense called a psychiatrist to the witness stand. Dr. Karl Jones told the jury he was convinced that Rouch lost her understanding of right from wrong when Publix terminated her.
"She started to think about dying and also about killing someone. She said she couldn’t stop the thoughts," Jones said. He testified that Rouch suffered from a form of post traumatic stress disorder brought on by months of tormenting and abuse from Janowski.
Jones said he believed that after Rouch shot Janowksi to death, she was determined to commit "suicide by cop." That’s a term used to describe someone attacking police with the intention of getting shot to death.
Prosecutors didn’t buy it. During cross-examination, they asked Jones if he could explain why Rouch fired three shots at police before officers returned fire, shooting Rouch four times.
"That’s pretty clear that she wanted to shoot the police, isn’t it?" said Fred Schaub, a Pinellas/Pasco county assistant state attorney.
"It’s also clear that she wanted the police to shoot her, too," Jones responded.
Earlier in the day, state attorneys showed jurors a sequence of Publix surveillance video. Prosecutors contend that Rouch is clearly visible entering the store carrying a green shopping bag. They say she was hiding a handgun underneath. Rouch had just shot Janowski minutes earlier, according to state attorneys, and was looking to kill more people.
Police are seen in the video entering the front door of the store as panicked customers run in the opposite direction. Rouch would end up with four gunshot wounds from police after she tried to kill them, law enforcement said. The shootout was not shown on video.
Defense attorneys asked Judge R. Timothy Peters to dismiss all charges on grounds that prosecutors failed to present enough evidence.
Schaub told the judge there was overwhelming proof of Rouch’s guilt, especially her killing Janowski while he was in his car.
"He sat unprotected. Four shots. That’s premeditation. One shot. Two shot. Three shot. Four shot," Schaub said, using his hand to demonstrate how the gun was fired. "She got a firearm. She got boxes of ammunition. She got three rounds or clips or magazines," Schaub argued.
The judge dismissed the motion.
Rouch told the judge she would not take the witness stand. However, her husband Thomas took the stand on her behalf on Wednesday morning.
During a break in testimony, prosecutors informed the judge that Thomas Rouch was being unfairly informed about the proceedings in court. As a witness, Rouch’s husband is supposed to be isolated from the testimony. The judge said he took the complaint under advisement.
Peters also scolded attorneys for both sides, saying they were quibbling too long about witnesses and that he didn’t want to waste the jury’s time.
Closing arguments in the case could begin Wednesday.
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