A Florida court has found David Tronnes guilty of murdering his wife Shanti Cooper-Tronnes after their marriage broke down over a contentious home renovation, prosecutors say.
Cooper-Tronnes was found beaten and strangled in the couple’s home in Orlando on April 24, 2018. After a few months of investigation, Tronnes was arrested for her murder.
At Tronnes’ trial, which concluded Wednesday, the jury deliberated for five hours before handing down a guilty verdict. He was sentenced to life in prison, according to a statement from the State Attorney Office of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida.
Tronnes and his wife had spent considerable time and money renovating their home, which led to them “experiencing problems in their marriage,” prosecutors write. At the time of Cooper-Tronnes’ death, the pair was sleeping separately while the renos were ongoing: Cooper-Tronnes in a one-bedroom studio within the home and Tronnes in the garage.
Tronnes wanted the couple to appear on the reality TV show Zombie House Renovations. When his wife refused to appear on the show, it “upset Tronnes to the point that it led to her murder,” prosecutors say.
On the day of his wife’s death, Tronnes said he was occupied cleaning the house and walking his dogs. He told investigators he returned home from the park and found his wife dead, floating in the bathtub with her pyjamas on.
During police questioning, he suggested that his wife slipped and fell or collapsed.
“The medical examiner testified that facial injuries, blood evidence and bruises on the victim’s eyes told a different story,” prosecutors write.
According to a CBS report, police noted at the time that the bathtub was dry and there was no water on the floor when they arrived. Cooper-Tronnes’s autopsy later confirmed that she didn’t just die from blunt force trauma, she was strangled too. When investigators asked how she could have sustained such serious injuries from a slip in the tub, Tronnes had no explanation.
“From the beginning, investigators with the Orlando Police Department noticed inaccuracies with Tronnes’ story,” prosecutors say. “Investigators also noted Tronnes showed little remorse during his interrogation and never shed a tear over his wife’s death.”
In an interview with CBS, former prosecutor Ryan Vescio said Cooper-Tronnes had bankrolled the couple’s expensive renovations, to the tune of US$250,000. She ran a lucrative financial software business and worked out of her home office while Tronnes oversaw the renovations.
“This house became more than just a project to David Tronnes. It was his life,” Vescio said. “He obsessed on it. This house is the centerpoint to the story.”
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Their residence was a 4,000-square-foot Victorian home with a pool. Tronnes paid a little over US$600,000 for the home and put it in a trust with his mother. At the time of her death, Tronnes had yet to add his wife’s name to the deed of the house, which strained their relationship as she had invested heavily in its renovation.
As the renos spiralled out of control, Tronnes reached out to a home renovator in their neighbourhood, Keith Ori, who also appears on the reality show Zombie House Flipping. In the show, the hosts attempt to restore dilapidated homes to their former glory.
“When I got there … they had fully disassembled this house to a degree that I’d never seen before. It was rather astonishing,” Ori told CBS. “They took away all the interior dividing walls and basically what was left was a two-storey shell.”
Initially, both husband and wife agreed to be on the show, Ori said. But the last time he saw the couple before Cooper-Tronnes’ death, he said she seemed “pissed off at him.” A few days later she was dead.
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