Carri Rousonelos' stabbing of her unfaithful husband, a minister, is deemed manslaughter, not murder.
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
© St. Petersburg Times, published December 9, 1999
LARGO -- Carri Rousonelos asked a judge for permission to discard her jail uniform for a dignified dress. This one time, she wanted to appear in court wearing clothing she might once have worn in happier days to her husband's church.
With the judge's approval on the clothing change, Mrs. Rousonelos on Wednesday walked from the jail to the court to admit one of the weightiest sins:
She killed her husband, Anthony Rousonelos, in a fit of rage.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors, Mrs. Rousonelos, 36, pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter in exchange for a sentence of 12 years in prison -- the most lenient sentence allowed under state sentencing guidelines.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell immediately sentenced Mrs. Rousonelos, who has been jailed since the June 16 stabbing death of her husband and faced a maximum of 19 years on the charge.
Prosecutors say Mrs. Rousonelos stabbed her husband near the groin with a kitchen knife after an argument over an affair he had with a parishioner at the St. Petersburg church he pastored, Faith Assembly of God.
Rousonelos, 42, his femoral artery slashed, bled to death after he staggered to and collapsed in the family room of the couple's Largo home.
Mrs. Rousonelos initially faced life in prison after police charged her with first-degree murder. But prosecutors later reduced the charge to manslaughter, saying it was a crime of passion and not a premeditated act designed to kill.
Her voice nearly a whisper, Mrs. Rousonelos told the judge she decided to plead guilty, in part, to spare her three minor children the pain of a trial.
She has not seen or spoken to her children since their father's death.
"I never intended to kill him," Mrs. Rousonelos said as her husband's family looked on. "But I admit my actions were wrong. As time has passed, not a day goes by that I don't seek peace for myself and forgiveness from God and my husband's family."
"I have prayed," she said, "for forgiveness."
The victim's sister, Margo Ryder, who now has custody of the couple's children, said afterward, "We have suffered every day since then and will continue to suffer for the rest of our lives."
But she said the family could not simply forget that Mrs. Rousonelos had been a loving member of their family, too.
"We grieve his loss and we grieve for Carri. For the past 14 years, we have loved her. She has been part of our family. Our hearts break for her and our prayers remain with her," Mrs. Ryder said.
Defense attorney J. Kevin Hayslett said prosecutors were "fair but firm." He said Mrs. Rousonelos did not have any prior record and never intended to cause serious harm to her husband.
"Statistically, the chances of her reoffending are zero," he said. He noted that he did not think the sentence was lenient or inappropriate. "Except for one split second's decision, she's lived an exemplary life."
Indeed, friends of Mrs. Rousonelos said they thought the sentence too harsh. They described her as a woman driven to rage by the infidelity of her husband.
Mrs. Rousonelos' best friend, Fran van Hoven, said Mrs. Rousonelos had tried to help the woman who police said had an affair with her husband.
"She reached out and tried to help a woman who betrayed everybody," said van Hoven. "This sentence is too hard. This was an accident, a crime of passion. She didn't want him to die."
In fact, she said, the couple would have weathered the argument without ever seeking divorce if he had lived.
"She loved her husband very much," she said.
Prosecutors did not return calls for comment. But in an interview earlier this year, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said evidence never suggested Mrs. Rousonelos intended to kill her husband.
For that reason, he said, manslaughter, not murder, was an appropriate charge.
"When you stab someone in the leg, you're generally not intending to kill as opposed to stabbing someone in the head or the neck," Bartlett said.
And Bartlett said prosecutors took other factors into consideration: her lack of a prior record and the wishes of the victim's family.
Police said the couple, while lying in bed, had argued about Anthony Rousonelos' infidelity with a church member, his faltering pastor's career and what was left of their life together.
Mrs. Rousonelos retrieved a 6-inch butcher knife from the kitchen, police said, and stabbed her husband near the groin as their 10-year-old son lay beside him.
The two other children -- the twin of the son who was in bed with them and a daughter -- were staying with friends because of their parents' arguments.
Police said they confirmed the affair the pastor had with a parishioner. But they said at the time of his death, the affair had ended.
Mrs. Rousonelos calmly called 911. When a dispatcher asked who had stabbed her husband, she answered, "Well, I did."