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Piper Ann ROUNTREE

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Revenge - She was intent on regaining custody of the children and cashing in on Jablin's $200,000 insurance policy
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 30, 2004
Date of arrest: November 8, 2004
Date of birth: 1960
Victim profile: Fredric Mark Jablin, 52 (her ex-husband)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Henrico County, Virginia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on May 6, 2005. She will be eligible for release after she turns 60
 
 

 
 

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Court of Appeals of Virginia

 

Piper Ann Rountree v. Commonwealth of Virginia

 
 

 
 

Piper Rountree gets life

She will be eligible for release after she turns 60

Richmond Times-Dispatch

May 7, 2005 

In a last-ditch effort to save herself from a lifetime in prison, Piper Rountree spoke directly to the judge.

"If someone out there would have asked me several months ago, I would have said my children needed a father, regardless of the things between us," she said, sobbing. "I still maintain that. They also need a mother."

Despite Rountree's pleas for "compassion and mercy," Henrico County Circuit Judge L.A. Harris Jr. decided that her crime was so deliberate that she should spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Shortly after noon yesterday, Harris sentenced Rountree, 45, to life in prison for the shooting death of her ex-husband, Fredric Jablin, plus three years for using a firearm in the crime. That's the sentence recommended by the jury that took less than an hour to convict her of first-degree murder in February.

"In this particular case, the evidence certainly shows that it was willful, deliberate and premeditated," Harris said, speaking to Rountree. "You had a detailed plan to carry out the end result."

He also admonished Rountree for showing "absolutely no remorse" about killing Jablin, a popular University of Richmond professor and the father of her three children.

"There's no way that these children will ever totally recover from that," Harris said. "I think when you look at everything, the jury did the right thing."

When Harris sentenced Rountree, Michael Jablin let out an audible sigh of relief. In an interview immediately following, he said, "Having this over us was like a storm cloud. But we know where Piper will be, hopefully for the rest of her life. I thought possibly she might show some remorse, but obviously, she has no remorse for this, and that's sad."

Rountree will be held in Henrico's Jail East for the next three months, until space is available at a Department of Corrections facility.

After she was sentenced, defense attorney Murray Janus said that Rountree plans to appeal her conviction but that he will not represent her. Janus asked that a public defender be assigned to her case.

Rountree will be technically eligible for release when she's 60. In Virginia, most felons may petition for parole if they have served at least 10 years of their sentence by the time they turn 60, or at least five years by the time they're 65. But the board does not have to grant parole, and Rountree's attorney said he doesn't think she will be granted release.

Jablin was ambushed in his driveway on a chilly October morning. Prosecutors proved in February that Rountree, Jablin's ex-wife and a Texas lawyer, shot Jablin twice, in the arm and in the back, when he went out to retrieve the Saturday morning newspaper Oct. 30. Their three children were asleep upstairs when Jablin was killed.

Prosecutors proved that Rountree traveled from Houston to the Richmond area Oct. 28 wearing a disguise and pretending to be her sister. She stayed in an Innsbrook-area hotel that night and the following night, and then awoke early the morning of Oct. 30 and drove to the house she once shared with Jablin. She shot him twice, then ran away, prosecutors said. His body was found about an hour later by a neighbor.

Rountree killed Jablin, prosecutors argued, because she wanted custody of their three children and because she was more than $7,000 behind in her child-support payments. Jablin and Rountree had been married for 19 years before they divorced in 2002, and Jablin was awarded full custody.

After Fred Jablin's death, Henrico courts awarded custody of the three children to Jablin's only sibling, Michael Jablin. They live with Michael, his wife and their children in Northern Virginia.

For most of the 1-hour court appearance, Rountree sat with her hands clenched tightly in a fist covering her mouth. Her shaggy brown bangs hung in her face, covering her eyes. Occasionally, she wiped tears away with a tissue. She smiled briefly to her family and friends when she entered the courtroom.

Her mother, a nephew and two friends testified about what a wonderful mother and artist Rountree has always been.

"Piper is a beautiful, gentle spirit," said longtime friend Lavon Guerrero, who traveled from Austin, Texas, for the sentencing. She also described Rountree as a "tremendous homemaker" who was "100 percent there for her kids at all times."

"She connects to plants and animals," Guerrero added.

Rountree's mother, Betty Rountree, said her youngest child was "a delight to raise" and a great mother.

"She had the ability to go down to their level, as opposed to being an adult and staying up there," Betty Rountree said.

She added that after Piper Rountree lost custody of her children during her divorce, she never recovered.

"You cannot take your children away from a mother and come out with the same person," Betty Rountree said. "It's almost like God gave children to a mother, and the father comes second."

In the end, though, even a great mother could be a calculating killer, Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Wade Kizer argued.

"At any point in time, she could have turned back and we wouldn't be here right now," he said. "She has shown absolutely no remorse whatsoever for this murder. She makes herself out to be the victim -- that she was a loving mother, and [that] this is everybody else's fault but hers."

He added that the children will never recover from losing their parents, "if they live to be 80 years old."


Rountree: victim of conspiracy?

The Associated Press

May 17, 2005

The former wife of a University of Richmond professor convicted of gunning him down in his driveway after a bitter divorce says she is the victim of a conspiracy.

In a two-hour jailhouse interview with The Associated Press, Piper Rountree called herself a battered woman who was the target of a "mob mentality" by corrupt police officers and overzealous prosecutors who were blinded by a compulsion to convict her.

"I'm a victim, and luckily I see myself as a victim with a voice," said Rountree, 45, who was sentenced this month to life in prison. "I believe that there's something much bigger than just me going on... I'm just an indication of what's happened, of where an abused and victimized wo- man ends up further victimized by a system."

Jurors in February deliberated less than one hour before convicting Rountree of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony for the Oct. 30 slaying of Fredric Jablin, who was 52. Jablin was gunned down as he walked outside his Henrico County house to retrieve the morning's newspaper. The couple's three children were asleep inside and were not harmed.

Prosecutors said a vengeful Rountree killed Jablin because she was intent on regaining custody of the children and cashing in on Jablin's $200,000 insurance policy. The couple divorced in 2002.

Rountree, who worked in Houston as an attorney, has maintained that she was asleep at her sister's home in Houston at the time of the murder.

"In the divorce, I was angry," Rountree said, seated at a table in a blue-and-white cement-block interview room at Henrico's Jail East in New Kent County. "Did I have thoughts of hurting him? You know, I would say, 'You know, I wish he'd get run over by a truck or something.' Those are the natural things you feel in a divorce. Do you act on those things? No."

Her voice soft and steady, Rountree dissolved into tears several times during the interview when discussing her children.

When asked outright if she murdered Jablin, Rountree brown eyes unblinking, the tips of her French-manicured nails pressed together -- answered immediately: "No, I didn't. The question is, is who did. And obviously I'm gonna have to find out sometime."

Though she refused to say who she believes killed her ex-husband, Rountree said she was told one of the initial prime suspects in the case was Jablin's brother, Michael Jablin, who now has custody of the children.

"Fred did not like Michael... I know that he [Michael Jablin] certainly hated me, he hated my sister, and he still hates my family," Rountree said. "If you look at money, if you look at position, if you look at opportunity, you know, the normal type of motives, Michael Jablin inherited ... $2 million or so ... from Fred's death. He was the one who stood to gain the most."

Henrico Commonwealth's Attorney Wade Kizer, who prosecuted the case, called those allegations "absolutely false." Michael Jablin was never a suspect, and, although he is the trustee of Jablin's estate for the three children, has not personally inherited any money, Kizer said.

Rountree described her 19-year marriage to Fredric Jablin as stormy and troubled, and said her ex-husband mentally and physically abused her and the children.

"He had a very escalated temper from the very beginning," Rountree said. "When somebody in a position of strength is able to make you feel, after verbal abuse, that you are no longer worth the breath that you breathe, that is abuse."

Despite their troubles, Rountree said she is upset that Jablin is dead.

"Granted, we didn't get along," she said. "But he had a whole lot to offer. And he was making a lot of steps towards at least trying to do some of the things he needed to do for the children."

Prosecutors presented the jury with a mountain of evidence during the five-day trial. Police said Jablin appeared to have been killed with a .38-caliber revolver -- the same type of gun prosecutors allege Rountree practiced with at shooting ranges in Houston. The prosecution also said Rountree purchased wigs to disguise herself while traveling from Texas to Virginia. And cell-phone records placed Rountree's phone in Richmond the weekend of the murder.

During the interview, Rountree admitted she did go to a firing range, but said she was simply there to practice shooting for her own protection. She did buy the wigs, she said, but they were meant for a costume she planned to wear to a Halloween party. And her cell phone was a communal business phone that could have been used by anyone -- or the cell-phone records could have been tampered with, she said.

And what about witnesses who placed Rountree on the weekend of the murder at a Houston airport heading to Virginia, at a car-rental agency in Norfolk and at a hotel close to Jablin's home?

Those witnesses were coerced by prosecutors who were intent on getting a conviction, said Rountree, who also accused the police of fabricating evidence against her.

Kizer dismissed Rountree's arguments.

"She's just got to come up with some explanation other than to admit ... what she has done," he said.

Rountree has appealed her conviction. In the meantime, she says she is spending her time reading the Bible, playing chess, walking 10 miles a day around the jail track and offering legal advice to her fellow inmates.

She misses certain comforts, such as a good cup of coffee. But mostly, she said, she misses her children: Callyn, 10, Paxton, 13, and Jocelyn, 15. She's had no contact with Paxton or Callyn since she was incarcerated. Jocelyn visited her once in January.

"I miss being able to hold my kids," she said tearfully. "I miss reading to them, I miss playing with them."

But for now, the woman who calls herself a spiritual leader, and whom prosecutors call a cold, remorseless murderer, says she has nothing left to do but pray that God will set her free.

"God works in different ways and I know God is on my side he just has different plans than I had ever envisioned for me," Rountree said. "I've always asked to be put in a place where I can be of most use to him. I didn't ever imagine it to be here."


Va. v. Rountree: Ex-wife on trial for professor's murder

CourtTV.com

March 22, 2005

Bob McArdle was lying awake in bed when he heard three gunshots outside his suburban Virginia home. He rushed to the window and saw a lone figure running down the street. It was 6:39 a.m. on Oct. 30, 2004, the day before Halloween. McArdle called 911.

When two Henrico County police officers arrived minutes later, McArdle talked to them about the gunshots and the person he'd seen running. It could've been a jogger, he said. It could've been a man or a woman. He didn't know.

The officers searched the area, but left when they didn't find anything suspicious. It was dark, after all, and McArdle might have been mistaken about the gunshots.

But when the sun rose about half an hour later, it revealed the body of McArdle's neighbor Fredric Jablin facedown in his own driveway, still dressed in pajamas and slippers. He was shot twice, in the arm and in the back.

Within two weeks, police discovered cellphone and bank records indicating the professor's 44-year-old ex-wife, Piper Rountree, had flown to Virginia from her home in Texas at the time of the murder. Alleging that Jablin's shooting death was the culmination of a bitter custody battle, Henrico County prosecutors charged Rountree with first-degree murder and the felonious use of a firearm.

Rountree claimed she was in Texas at the time of the murder, and pointed to inconsistencies in the records used to track her movements. Airport authorities had checked in Piper Rountree's sister, Tina, at the airport, and Tina Rountree was known to share her sister's cellphone.

Was Piper Rountree a jealous ex-wife who resented her alimony payments and would kill for custody of her three children? Or was it a case of mistaken identity?

A broken home

Rountree and Jablin met in 1981 when Rountree was a student and Jablin a professor at the University of Texas in Austin. They married in 1983 and had three children during almost two decades of marriage.

But in late 2000 or early 2001 their relationship began to sour. According to court records, Piper Rountree had an affair with a Richmond-area doctor.

Jablin petitioned the court for a divorce, which was granted in July 2002 on grounds of infidelity. Eight months later, the same Virginia court gave custody of the children to Jablin and ordered Rountree, a lawyer, to make monthly alimony payments of $890.

Rountree, who was living with her sister, Tina Rountree, declared bankruptcy in 2003. By late September 2004, Piper Rountree owed almost $10,000 in back alimony, according to prosecutors.

At the time of his death, Fredric M. Jablin had a $200,000 life-insurance policy. His ex-wife Piper Rountree was the sole beneficiary.

Friends of Jablin and Rountree told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that in October 2004, the professor was in his first serious relationship after the divorce, and Piper Rountree didn't want another woman near her children.

The investigation

According to police, Piper Rountree enacted a cross-country murder scheme in which, donning a blonde wig and using false documents, she used her sister's identity to fly from Texas to Virginia and kill her ex-husband.

Murray Janus, Rountree's defense attorney, conceded that "somebody flew on Southwest Airlines" at the time of the murder, but that there were "too many discrepancies" to prove it was Jablin's ex-wife.

Prosecutors traced Rountree's cellphone signal to local transmission towers across the country from Texas to Virginia on Thursday, Oct. 28. Sprint cellphone records showed the signal from Rountree's primary cellphone went from Houston, Texas to the Richmond, Virginia area during the two days before Jablin's murder, and the signal returned to Houston on Saturday, Oct. 30.

The defense claimed Piper Rountree maintained several cellphones and shared some of them with her sister Tina.

Detectives also traced a debit card under the name of Jerry Walters that Piper Rountree was known to use. The card's activity followed a path similar to Rountree's cellphone signal.

Walters, who was dating Rountree at the time of the murder, told police he got the card for Rountree. Weeks before the murder, she told him the debit card had been stolen.

The same debit card was used on Oct. 21 to buy two wigs from an online store. Piper Rountree admits buying the wigs, but says they were for her sister Tina. Rountree told police that her sister would often give wigs to cancer patients at the clinic where she worked

The airport

Kathy Molley, a Southwest Airlines customer service employee at Houston Hobby Airport, remembered a woman buying a ticket on Oct. 28, 2004. The woman, a pretty blonde, was anxious to get her ticket.

Molley remembered telling the woman she had a "cute name" Tina Rountree.The woman bought a round-trip ticket to Norfolk and said she had a gun to check.

Federal law requires a cable lock for any weapon that's checked through security and inspection by a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer. The woman passed both requirements.

Prosecutors said the woman checking in as Tina Rountree was actually Piper. They pointed to her debit-card records showing a purchase of a cable lock the morning of Thursday, Oct. 28.

Mac McClennahan, Tina Rountree's boyfriend, testified that he gave Piper Rountree a .38 revolver in 2002. Rountree denied owning a gun.

A TSA officer had to double-check the woman's identity, and would have given special scrutiny to someone checking a gun onto a flight, defense attorney Murray Janus argued. Tina Rountree's identification indicated that she had brown eyes. Wouldn't the officer be suspicious if he saw Piper's blue eyes that day?

By Saturday night, Virginia police were trying to find the ex-wife of murder victim Fredric Jablin. They called Houston police, who posted officers at the airport with pictures of Tina and Piper Rountree, hoping to catch one of the sisters returning to Texas. The police didn't see either.

The case

The prosecution built a circumstantial case against Rountree using maps, charts and records of the cellphone and debit card Rountree was known to use. No DNA, fingerprints or other physical evidence were found at the scene of Jablin's murder.

In his closing argument, Henrico County prosecutor Wade Kizer summarized the evidence against Rountree, telling jurors that Rountree wanted to have custody of her children and erase her alimony debt.

In Rountree's defense, several people testified that Piper and Tina Rountree have similar voices and appearances, are often mistaken for each other, and share cellphones.

Piper Rountree claimed she was in Galveston on Thursday, Oct. 28, and in Houston the following two days. Martin McVey, a business associate of Rountree, claims to have seen her in Texas on the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 30.

The verdict

The trial of Piper Rountree began on Feb. 22, 2005, in Henrico County, Va.

On Feb. 25, after deliberating for less than two hours, the jury found Piper Rountree guilty of the first-degree murder of her ex-husband Fredric Jablin. The jury recommended a sentence of life in prison without parole. Judge L. A. Harris scheduled sentencing for May 6.

After the verdict, Michael Jablin, the victim's brother, told reporters, "Nobody wins in this. My brother's children are all losers in this."

CourtTV.com


Piper's Revenge

By Rachael Bell


Shots in the Dark

In the early dawn hours of October 30, 2004, Professor Fredric M. Jablin, 52, sleepily made his way out of bed. Dressed in his pajamas and slippers he ventured out into the darkness to fetch the morning paper that had recently been tossed on his driveway at 1515 Hearthglow Lane.

Most of his neighbors in Tuckahoe Village, a suburb of Richmond, Virginia, were still fast asleep, as were Jablin's two daughters aged 8 and 15 and his son aged 12. They would soon awaken to a nightmare.

Around 6:40 am, neighbors were jolted awake by a frightening sound. According to Mark Bowes' Richmond Times-Dispatch article, they reported hearing a "bang, bang, bang," which one woman hoped "was a [malfunctioning] transformer." Yet, her husband who was also awakened by the noise knew it wasn't "because of the three precise shots," it was reported. There was little doubt it was a gun being fired.

Harry Swartz-Turfle of Court TV stated that yet another neighbor, Bob McArdle, was startled by the shots and dashed to his window to see what was going on. McArdle saw a person running down the street, although he could not make out the description because it was too dark. He and other neighbors were prompted to call 911.

It took only a few minutes for the police to respond. Several officers searched the surrounding neighborhood but could find no indication of foul play. However, "when the sun rose about a half hour later" Jablin's body was discovered lying dead in his driveway next to his Ford Explorer, Harry Swartz-Turfle reported. He had been shot in the arm and back while retrieving his newspaper.

Shock and profound sadness spread across the community with the news of Jablin's death. The rumors quickly made their way around the campus where he worked as an organizational-communications scholar at the University of Richmond's Jepson School. Neighbors, colleagues and student simply couldn't fathom why anyone would want to harm such a beloved man who was devoted to his children, students and job.

Yet those who knew Jablin intimately had their suspicions. The professor was just beginning to get his life back together after a nasty divorce and custody battle with his ex-wife Piper Rountree, 43.

Rountree, "a former Texas prosecutor, school board association attorney and amateur artist" wasn't at all happy about losing custody of her children, as well as "the bulk of the couple's assets," Bowes reported. Jablin's family and friends began to wonder if Rountree might have killed Jablin out of revenge. Investigators came to a similar conclusion and promptly arrested Piper Rountree.


Piper and Fred

Piper Rountree was born and raised in a small farming community in Harlingen, Texas. According to Paige Akin writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, she was the youngest of five siblings, including two brothers and two sisters. Rountree's father was a military surgeon and her mother was a homemaker.

Rountree was reported to have had a happy childhood and family life. She had close friendships and was liked by her fellow students although she wasn't the most popular girl in school, fellow classmate Lavon Guerrero suggested. Rountree excelled academically and was eventually accepted by the University of Texas at Austin in 1978. As an undergraduate, she studied speech communication.

The following year, Dr. Fredric (Fred) Jablin left a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin and took a new position teaching communications at the University of Texas at Austin. He was recently divorced and looking for a new beginning.

In 1981, he taught a course in organizational communications, for which Rountree registered. Jablin was immediately captivated by Rountree's artistic and energetic nature. Their student/teacher relationship ended in the fall of 1981 and six months later they began a romantic relationship.

The two were smitten with one another and became increasingly inseparable. In 1983, the couple moved to San Antonio, Texas when Rountree was accepted as a law student at St. Mary's University. Jablin did not give up his position at the University of Texas because his career was just beginning to take off, despite the 180-mile commute from his new home.

Later that year, the couple married while Rountree was still enrolled in law school. The marriage initially got off to a good start but it wasn't long before cracks began to appear. According to Bowes, Jablin reported in later court documents that he "became aware early in their marriage that Rountree suffered "emotional problems," after learning that she had been bulimic and was receiving psychological counseling 'because of family issues.'"


Red Flags

Rountree's emotional instability became increasingly apparent in her social life soon after she graduated in 1986 and moved back to Austin with Jablin. Even though she obtained employment as an assistant district attorney for Hays County, Texas soon after graduation, she quickly tired of the position and quit after one year, Bowes reported.

From then on she tried her hand at several different positions, which included that of school board association attorney, working for a private law firm and a position with the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. None of the positions lasted longer than two years because she was either fired or quit out of dissatisfaction. She then set up her own practice in 1993 but after a year she gave it up because Jablin was offered a new position with a significant salary increase in Virginia at the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership.

In the meantime, Rountree and Jablin were in the process of raising their two children, a pre-school-aged daughter, Jocelyn, and a toddler son, Paxton, whom they both adored. The new job in Richmond offered a release from the financial burdens the family endured in Texas, mostly caused by Rountree's habit of overspending. In order to enhance their standard of living, the family moved to the Richmond area and Jablin began his new career as a professor of organizational communications.

After the move, Rountree decided to put her career on hold and devote herself to her children, full time. Rountree and Jablin's third child, Callyn, followed a couple years later. Akin said that, "even though Rountree got to spend more time making a home for her children, she wasn't content."

Bowes stated that the couple's marriage became "exceedingly strained in 2000," around the time Rountree "suffered a major depression" after undergoing an ectopic pregnancy and hysterectomy. It was also at this time when Rountree started having an affair with a married ophthalmologist.

Bowes reported that the "fatal attraction type relationship" with the doctor eventually led to the destruction of his marriage, exacerbated by Rountree's repeated death threats against his wife. When Jablin learned of the affair he was devastated and decided that the marriage was beyond salvage.


A Bitter Breakup

Rountree and Jablin separated in March 2001 and immediately began divorce proceedings. On request of the court, Edwin A. Bischoff, a Richmond-area attorney was "appointed commissioner in chancery in the Jablin-Rountree divorce" and asked to compile a review of the couple's marriage, Bowes said.

Allan Turner of the Houston Chronicle quoted Bischoff who told the court that prior to the divorce proceedings Rountree experienced "significant episodes of mental health problems, drinking and abuse of prescription drugs." It was further reported that she also "circulated false reports of spousal abuse," which eventually "had little bearing on the case."

Moreover, the court learned that Rountree had run the family into considerable debt, which caused significant problems within the relationship. Within four years, Rountree, who was briefly in charge of the family's finances, amassed a credit card debt of more than $50, 0000, some of which was allegedly used to fund outings with her lover.

The court also heard that the ophthalmologist who was having an affair with Rountree often accompanied her and the children during summer activities in 2001. This news greatly shocked and saddened Jablin who wanted to protect the children from the couple's mounting marital problems.

In July 2002, after an emotionally and financially draining battle, the judge overseeing the case granted the couple a divorce on the grounds of adultery. Soon after, proceedings began concerning custody of the children. Jablin petitioned the court for sole custody of the children because of Rountree's mental instability.

Jablin's attorney stated in a petition to the court that Rountree had a "history of depression, which is manifested by periods of agitated and distressful conduct [and] impulsive acts, including fleeing from the area or threatening to take the children from Richmond, periods of infidelity, pleas of hopelessness and aberrational conduct including speaking to angels," Bowes reported.

After an eight month-long bitter battle, a Virginia court granted Jablin sole custody of the children and ordered Rountree to pay $890 a month for child support. Akin reported that according to Jablin's friends, "Rountree never came to terms with losing custody" of her children. She was also angered that Jablin "was awarded the bulk of the couple's assets," Bowes said.

In March 2002, Rountree moved to Houston, Texas where she had a license to practice law. Akin reported that she also moved to the area to be closer to her sister Tina Rountree, 52, a nurse practitioner specializing in menopause treatment and weight management who owned and operated the Village Women's Clinic near Rice University.

It was further reported that Tina helped her sister by finding her a one-room office space in which to rent for her legal practice. When her practice proved unsuccessful, Rountree began work at a land title company in August 2003.

That same year, Rountree filed for bankruptcy in Texas and moved in with her sister. Half a year later, Rountree was found in contempt of court in Virginia for not paying child support.

According to Swartz-Turfle, "by late September 2004, Piper Rountree owed almost $10,000 in back alimony." Rountree's financial and alleged mental problems, exacerbated by the fact that she didn't see her children except for a few times a year, eventually caused her to resort to measures that would have deadly consequences.


The Investigation

Soon after Jablin's body was discovered, investigators turned their attention to Rountree, who clearly seemed to have a motive to murder him. However when questioned, Rountree claimed that there was no way she could have killed her ex-husband because she was halfway across the country at the time, in Texas. Suspicious of her story, investigators began to piece together Rountree's movements at around the time of the murder. It didn't take them long to find holes in her alibi.

A forensic team seized several objects from Jablin's house, which they hoped would provide clues to aid in the investigation. Some of the articles included, "two cell phones, information from a Caller ID, photos, a pair of glasses and a 1999 Ford Explorer, Bowes reported. Other items were confiscated from Rountree back in Houston, which included a wig, a computer and her cell phone records, among other things.

Investigators also interviewed numerous witnesses, including a Southwest Airlines employee, employees at the Houston Hobby Airport, a rental car service employee near Norfolk International Airport, a hotel manager in Henrico, Virginia and a patron of a Houston bar, as well as family members, friends and colleagues of Jablin and Rountree.

A significant piece of evidence that initially tied Rountree to the murder involved calls made from her cell phone. After reviewing the call records, investigators discovered that she was in the Richmond area the day before the murder up until the time around Jablin's death. From that moment on, the evidence began to pile up against Rountree.

Investigators learned that at 4:30 pm on the day of Jablin's murder, a woman checked in on a Southwest Airlines flight to Houston under the name of Tina Rountree. They interviewed airport employees at the Virginia and Houston airports to see if anyone could identify a picture of Piper Rountree as the woman traveling under the name Tina Rountree. Several people claimed to recognize the picture, although the woman they saw had blonde hair unlike the woman in the picture that was a brunette.

Based on the information they pieced together, investigators eventually determined that Piper Rountree did indeed travel to Richmond for a couple days before leaving on the afternoon of Jablin's murder. They also determined that she traveled in disguise, wearing a blonde wig and using her sister's identification.

After further investigation, it was discovered that Rountree bought two wigs on October 21st on the internet ordered from an e-mail account in her name. The wigs were mailed to a Houston post office box that bore the name of a former boyfriend of hers and were delivered prior to her flight to Virginia, days before Jablin's death, Bowes stated in an article.

After traveling to Houston, Henrico County investigators interviewed a Southwest Airlines clerk who remembered Rountree traveling to Virginia on October 28th. Kathy Mollie said that Rountree declared an unloaded gun at the time of check in. Akin quoted Mollie who said that Rountree appeared nervous and that "it seemed that there was something on her mind, that she was very much in a hurry," almost as if she was "trying to distract" her.

It was further reported that soon thereafter Mollie involved a baggage screener named Allan Fenestrate who worked for the Transportation Safety Authority in Houston who also recalled Rountree and the fact that she was "a bit nervous and fidgety" about the gun that she claimed belonged to her father. Bowes suggested that the gun she carried was a ".32- or.38-caliber revolver," which had the ability to shoot the bullets that killed Jablin. The gun that Rountree allegedly carried was never found.


Mounting Evidence

In the week after the murder, Rountree gave police the number of a bar patron whom she claimed would provide them with an alibi as to her whereabouts on the night of October 29th, twelve hours prior to the murder. Rountree said that Kevin O'Keefe, a 51-year-old electrical engineer, saw her that evening at the Under the Volcano bar in Houston, which if substantiated would make it difficult to prove she was at the murder scene in Virginia.

When police interviewed O'Keefe on November 5th, he said that he recalled seeing Rountree, although he wasn't entirely sure it was on the night in question. O'Keefe claimed to have been extremely busy that week and that he "didn't know which way was up," Bowes quoted him as saying.

O'Keefe told investigators that on November 3rd, Rountree came to the bar looking for him in a distraught state, claiming that "her boyfriend, who she lived with four years ago had been stabbed" and the police needed to confirm she was at the bar the evening of October 29th, Akin reported.

When O'Keefe suggested it was possible that he'd seen her that evening, Rountree disappeared only to return a short while later with two men, one of whom was a notary, asking for him to sign a statement to substantiate her alibi, Bowes reported. O'Keefe refused and instead gave her his number to give to police in case they needed his testimony.

He later realized that he hadn't seen Rountree on the evening in question but actually on a different day during that same week. A bartender substantiated his story. It was evidence that proved to be damaging to Rountree's already shaky alibi.

Back in Virginia, investigators interviewed rental car service employee Tarra Waterford near Norfolk International Airport who claimed that someone resembling Rountree rented a minivan from her on October 28th. That same day, a Henrico, Virginia hotel manager also said she remembered a woman fitting Rountree's description registering for a room on October 28th for two nights.

The hotel was approximately 5 miles from Jablin's home. The manager said that the woman produced identification under the name Tina Rountree but specifically asked to sign in using a different name, which struck the manager as unusual. Rountree checked out of the hotel on October 30th, hours after Jablin's murder.

Moreover, investigators tied Rountree to a bank debit card that a former boyfriend named Jerry Walters, acquired for her after she declared bankruptcy. He opened the line of credit for her so that she could pay her bills, although he never contributed any money. The card was used to purchase items including the wigs she allegedly worn while on route to Virginia from Houston and the Southwest Airline plane tickets registered in the name Tina Rountree.

She also used the card to secure reservations at the Henrico, Virginia hotel where she signed in under an assumed name, to withdraw cash at several locations in the same area and to make a purchase at a CVS pharmacy, also in Henrico, which included a pair of latex gloves.

The overwhelming evidence against Piper Rountree eventually led to her arrest on November 8, 2004 for the murder of her ex-husband and the felony use of a firearm. Piper Rountree's arrest came soon after a custody hearing, where she lost guardianship of her three children to Jablin's brother of northern Virginia. Rountree was held in the Henrico County jail to await trial scheduled for January 2005. She faced 20 years behind bars, if found guilty.

Also on November 8th, Tina Rountree was arrested "on suspicion of tampering with evidence in the case," Melanie Mayhew reported in The Collegian. According to Akin, authorities said that she likely "helped Piper Rountree destroy evidence related to Jablin's murder, including a wig, makeup and computers." Her court hearing for the third-degree felony took place in July 2005 in Harris County, Texas where the offense allegedly occurred.


On Trial

On January 28, 2005, Rountree underwent a pretrial hearing at the Henrico County Circuit Court. Murray Janus represented her case before Judge L.A. Harris, Jr. The lead prosecutors in the case included Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Duncan P. Reid and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Owen I. Ashman.

During the hearing, the prosecution presented a steady stream of witnesses who provided evidence against Rountree, mostly placing her in Virginia at the time of the murder. Some of the witnesses included Mollie, Benestante, O'Keefe, Waterford and the Henrico hotel manager where Rountree checked in on October 28th. The judge found the evidence sufficient enough for the case to go to trial, which began several weeks later.

February 22nd marked the opening of Rountree's trial beginning with jury selection. Eventually, a seven-man, seven-woman jury was selected followed by opening statements from the prosecution then the defense teams. Witness testimony began the next day and lasted until February 26th.

One of the many witnesses to take the stand was Jerry Walters, Rountree's ex-boyfriend who she dated for ten months up until February 2004 and who had previously opened a line a credit for her. He claimed that while Rountree was in jail she sent him a letter suggesting that they marry in order to "spare" him testifying against her, since "by law a husband could not testify against a wife and vice versa."

Walters told the court that Rountree called him the evening of Jablin's murder and informed him of his death. She then asked him to fly from Louisiana where he lived to Houston, although he declined the offer, Akin said.

Walters said that the next day he learned that the line of credit he set up for Rountree was in default because, according to Rountree, the debit card had been stolen the week before, it was further reported. He only later learned from investigators that many of the items linking Rountree to the murder were purchased from the bank account he set up for her. Walters closed the account soon thereafter.

Another witness who testified was Crystalee Danko, a Sprint telephone employee who produced cell phone records placing Rountree in the area of Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia between October 28th and 30th. She also provided records that proved Rountree was also in Virginia earlier that same month. The evidence directly contradicted Rountree's account that she was in Houston at the time of Jablin's murder.

Three days into the trial, other testimony was heard including that of the Henrico hotel manager and the manager of the boutique where Rountree bought the wigs she allegedly wore on route to and from Virginia during the last week of October 2004. Investigators were able to provide video surveillance tapes showing Rountree at Henrico County ATM money machines around the time of the murder wearing one of the blonde wigs she purchased from the boutique over the internet.

Perhaps one of the most damaging pieces of evidence was that presented by Mac McClennahan, who dated Tina Rountree at the time of the murder. He claimed that on the evening of October 26, 2004, he and Piper Rountree went to a Houston shooting range and practiced firing rented guns.

He also testified that he gave her a .38-caliber revolver in 2002, which he "found inside Tina Rountree's house," Akin stated. Following Jablin's death, McClennahan said that Rountree tried to convince him not to tell investigators about the practice shooting at the fire range because, "it'll just complicate things."


A Losing Battle

On the fourth day of the trial, several other witnesses presented testimony to the court, which included a parking lot official from Hobby Airport in Houston who said that he saw Rountree's black jeep parked at the airport from October 28th to October 30th, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Two other witnesses testified that they saw Rountree days before the murder at a shooting range in Houston, using her sister's identification. Rountree allegedly bought a box of ammunition for a .38-caliber gun, similar to that believed to have killed Jablin.

That same day, O'Keefe took the stand and recounted his conversations with Rountree at the Houston-area bar, where she tried to get him to sign a notarized statement that he had seen her October 29th. His testimony was followed by Piper Rountree's testimony in her own defense. Her account of events was the most revealing, which inevitably changed the climate of the entire proceedings.

While on the stand, Rountree tearfully professed her innocence, claiming that she was in Houston when Jablin was gunned down in front of his home. She said that she never owned a gun and never had her sister Tina's driver's license. She claimed that she was often mistaken for her sister "both in voice and in physical appearance," suggesting that it was her sister in Houston at the time of Jablin's murder instead of her.

When lawyers confronted her with the evidence they had against her, she refuted it all or simply claimed ignorance. Throughout her testimony she became increasingly less convincing, which proved to have disastrous results for her defense.

On the fifth day, closing arguments were heard before the jury deliberated on the case. By mid-afternoon, a verdict was returned finding Piper Rountree guilty of murdering her ex-husband and the felonious use of a firearm. As the verdict was read, Rountree could only sob. It was recommended that she be sentenced to life in prison, plus a mandatory three years on firearm charges.

During the sentencing trial in May of that year, Henrico County Circuit Judge L.A. Harris, Jr. sentenced Rountree to life in prison plus three years. The judge said to Rountree during the hearing that "the evidence certainly shows that it (her intent) was willful, deliberate and premeditated" and he admonished her for having "absolutely no remorse," the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Rountree was led away from the courtroom to Henrico's Jail East where she was temporarily imprisoned. In July 2005, she was transferred to Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women in Troy, Virginia, where she will be imprisoned for the remainder of her sentence. She is expected to be up for parole in 2020, when she's 60-years-old, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Rachael Bell CrimeLibrary.com

 

 

 
 
 
 
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