By LAUREN SILVER
ORLANDO, Fla. (Court TV) — A key piece of evidence in David Tronnes’ murder trial — a set of bloody sheets — was hidden from police for nearly a year after the crime at the direction of Tronnes’ attorneys, according to police.
David is on trial, having been charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Shanti Cooper-Tronnes. Shanti was found dead at the couple’s home on April 24, 2018.
While David told police that he found his wife in the bathtub after she appeared to have fallen, police noted discrepancies in his story and with evidence at the scene. First responders at the scene noted the presence of blood on Shanti’s face and body, in the bathtub where she had allegedly been found, and on the mattress pad where her body was lying when they arrived.
In a recorded police interrogation, David explained that police might find blood on sheets in the home from a recent sexual encounter the couple had. But officers who collected evidence noted they never found bloody sheets — only the mattress pad.
On April 18, 2019, nearly one year after Shanti’s murder, prosecutor Ryan Vescio was meeting with Orlando Police Detective Teresa Sprague when David’s attorney called. At the time, David was represented by Robert Mandell, who called after receiving Sprague’s investigative report. Mandell allegedly expressed concern, saying that he had been in touch with an ethics hotline for Florida attorneys because he did not realize “the detective’s focus in the report was going to be on the sheets.”
“After careful hesitation, Robert Mandell advised he had hired Private Investigator, Billy Lane, from Prison Break Investigations, to do some work on the case and he was in possession of some sheets from the house. ASA Vescio asked him where the sheets were collected from and Robert advised they were collected from the loft apartment and police had missed them. He advised that the sheets had been packaged as evidence and secured by Billy Lane at his office in Lakeland and they intended to have them tested for blood and DNA at some point. They now had been in possession of the sheets for 11 months without disclosing it.”
In a supplemental investigation report by Sprague obtained by Court TV, Sprague explained that she believed Mandell contacted Vescio only after realizing that police had placed a camera outside of the Tronnes’ home from the time of the murder until June 2018, which would thereby have recorded anyone taking evidence from the crime scene.
Sprague then met with Lane, who showed her the bag of evidence, which had been stored in a locker in a common room for other business owners in his shared office space. Lane said the locker was secured by him and Sprague noted, “he advised he was a former CSI and Lakeland Police Officer and we would be impressed with how well he had secured and marked the evidence.”
Inside the brown evidence bag, which was marked and labeled, were top sheets, a fitted sheet, pillow covers and a pair of black socks.
When Sprague asked Mandell if there was any other potential evidence that had not been turned over to the court, the attorney referred police to a second private investigator, Tarrence Callins. Callins wife met officers to give them access to their storage unit, where police found a brown evidence bag on top of a filing cabinet.
Inside the bag, officers found a green cord that had been collected from the Tronnes’ home, having been found wrapped around a wood stud by a ladder. In her notes, Sprague noted, “We had not been told what the item was used for the murder or why it required collection by Robert Mandell’s office as evidence.”
“Although we had no context from Robert Mandell as to why this item was evidence, Shanti had been strangled. Though ligature marks were not readily apparent, Shanti did have an unusual linear mark on the right side of her neck with possible ligature markings on either side. Using gloves and a magnifying glass, we examined the entire cable looking for blood evidence and did not locate anything visible to the naked eye or under the magnifier.”
Mandell told investigators that he had the cord removed because “His client had intended to hang himself so they had requested Mr. Callins remove the green cable from the home under construction.”
“Having read on the bag the cable was located in the front home under construction wrapped around a wood stud, only David Tronnes or his lawyer would have known where this item of evidence was in order to direct Tarrence Callins to recover it. They were also the only people who would know what it was used for in the murder of Shanti Cooper-Tronnes and why it was evidence that needed collection and secured storage.”
“No effort had been made to have this evidence tested to prove there was another possible assailant nor had its existence been made known to the State or the Court for almost a year.”
When asked about the green cord Mandell said, “His client had intended to hang himself so they had requested Mr. Callins remove the green cable from the main home under construction.”
But Sprague noted, “Perhaps most notably though, Robert’s explanation for the green cable possibly being used by David as a mechanism to hang himself in the home did not make it “evidence” in the murder of Shanti Cooper-Tronnes. The cable had been packaged as evidence and secured as evidence by a private investigator at the direction of the Mandell Law Firm and disclosed to ASA Ryan Vescio as evidence in the homicide.”
Sprague concluded her report by saying there existed probability to charge Mandell and another attorney in his office, Greg Greenberg with tampering with evidence and accessory after the fact. However, court records do not indicate any charges were filed.
Court TV has reached out to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office for further comment on the investigation.