FL v. David Tronnes: Bathtub Murder Trial

Posted at 8:06 PM, October 18, 2023 and last updated 8:33 PM, October 18, 2023


ORLANDO, Fla. (Court TV) — A jury deliberated for more than five hours before finding a man guilty of murdering his wife after claiming he found her dead in the bathtub.

A man in a suit and tie sits in court

David Tronnes sits in court during his murder trial on Oct. 17, 2023. (Court TV)

David Tronnes pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder charges and has maintained that he found his wife had already died when he found her in the bathtub after an apparent fall at their home on April 24, 2018.

Immediately following the verdict, Tronnes was sentenced to life in prison.

Court TV obtained a transcript of David’s interview with police, where he told them that he and Shanti met online in 2013, and after a brief courtship he moved to Florida to be with her and her young son, Jackson. Shanti shared custody of her son with her ex-husband.

While David was unemployed, Shanti ran her own business. As a couple, the two had purchased a home that required extensive renovations and had been working to repair it. In notes obtained from Shanti’s computer by detectives, she appeared to bemoan the toll the project was taking on their relationship and bank accounts: “I ask him why he is so cheap — he keeps telling me how much money has been spent on this house and that he will almost have 1m into it — were are no further along into the renovation and our relationship is getting worse.”

On April 24, 2018, Tronnes called the police at 3:50 p.m., saying that Shanti was not breathing. He initially told police that he pulled Shanti from the shower and laid her on her back. Court TV reviewed the report from the first officers who responded, who noted that ‘Tronnes’ response to Shanti’s death seemed to be feigned grief” and in a sworn statement one officer said that Tronnes was “acting in a manner as if he was trying to exaggerate his state of distress.”

“David sounded as if he was hysterically crying one moment and then would completely stop and answer certain questions as if nothing was wrong in a very matter-of-fact way. He would then go back to sounding as if he was sobbing hysterically. The 9-1-1 call to police and medical both sounded rehearsed and disingenuous.”

photo of a smiling couple

A photo from the court record shows Shanti and David Tronnes smiling together. (Evidence Photo)

Officers noted another inconsistency in the shower. David told the dispatcher, responding officers and the officers who interviewed him that he had pulled his wife from the tub. In the interview with officers, David described his wife’s head as having been “submerged” beneath the water and said the water was still running when he found her.

But officers at the scene noted that Shanti was fully clothed and that the tub and surrounding areas were dry. Officers noted in their report: “The tub did not have water in it and was not wet. The diluted blood was dry. The floor outside the tub was dry and the bathroom rug flipped up towards the window was also dry. The carpet from the bathroom entrance to the area where the decedent was lying was dry. The decedent’s clothing looked damp but was not soaking wet as if she was just removed from a tub full of water. The blood I observed on her skin was also dried blood.”

The medical examiner ruled that Shanti’s death was a homicide and that she had died from strangulation and blunt force trauma — not drowning.

Before Shanti’s death, the couple had been talking to a production company about being a part of a TV show called ‘Zombie House Flipping,’ and had met with the show’s producers. While David was excited about the project, Shanti was apprehensive.

The case has had extensive delays before seeing a jury, because David was not found competent to stand trial until Jan. 2023. His attorney had attempted to change his plea from not guilty to not guilty by reason of insanity, but the judge ruled that would not be allowed because they missed the filing deadline, WFTV reported.


DAY 5 – 10/18/23

DAY 4 – 10/17/23

  • Detective Teresa Sprague testified as an hours-long interrogation she did of David Tronnes was played for the jury.
    • In the video, Tronnes talked about meeting Shanti on match and getting the house with her, saying it was put in a trust and that Shanti’s credit was bad at the time.
    • He detailed issues with Shanti’s appendix, how they struggled having sex and one time she was bleeding.
    • He went over the timeline of events leading up to finding Shanti, saying she hadn’t been feeling well and was looking for a dentist to deal with her cracked tooth.
    • He said he found Shanti partially submerged in the bathtub and moved Shanti closer to the bed and that she was face up when he got her out of the bathroom door, then turned her so she was facedown.
    • He speculated that Shanti decided to take a shower before slipping and blacking out, causing her to collapse. He offered that her injuries were the result of hitting her head on something, but said he didn’t know how she got the laceration on her cheek.
    • Det. Sprague said she believed that Shanti was deceased before David left to go to the park. Sprague and her partner continued to question his story and delve into inconsistencies.
    • On cross examination, Sprague sparred with Tronnes’ attorney, who put forth the implication that she prejudged David, manipulated him in his interview and wore him out by detaining him for hours and only feeding him crackers.
    • Sprague clarified the significance of finding one earring on the nightstand, saying that’s possible that Shanti was taking off her earrings when she was attacked.
    • When the defense asked why no bloody rags were found, Det. Sprague offered that it was trash day.
    • The defense challenged Sprague’s reasoning for not believing David when he said he left his cell phone in a cooler. Sprague said this led her to a dead end when she tried to verify his alibi because his cell phone couldn’t corroborate his location, nor could any surveillance cameras.
    • The defense questioned Sprague on her assessment of Shanti in rigor. To this, Sprague reiterated David’s statement that he found Shanti stuff, her leg was bent when it was in the tub, and her arm was at her side. Sprague said that when she observed Shanti, her leg was straight and her arms above her head.
  • The state rested its case.

DAY 3 – 10/16/23

  • Elena Pathak: Saw Shanti’s house was in disrepair, there was no floor, walls were removed.
    • She remembered Shanti saying David was pushing her to buy a Mercedes.
    • She said Shanti and David didn’t appear affectionate towards each other.
  • Samantha Adams: Shanti’s nanny and personal assistant.
    • She noticed Shanti was responsive to people while she was working.
    • She said Shanti had an appendix surgery in March 2018 and wore pajamas during this time. A month later, Shanti resumed wearing jeans and a blouse.
    • She noticed Shanti always wore her wedding and engagement ring.
  • Shawn Johnson: Performed DNA analysis on Shanti and David swabs
    • David’s hands: Two individuals, Shanti included, one was male.
    • David’s fingernails: Two individuals, Shanti included, David’s expected.
    • David’s pajamas:
      • One stain: Two individuals, Shanti included, David’s expected.
      • One stain: Mixture, David’s DNA was minimal.
    • Shanti’s vagina: No male DNA.
    • Shanti’s anus: No male DNA.
    • Shanti’s oral swab: No male DNA.
    • Shanti’s neck: No male DNA.
    • Shanti’s hands: No DNA interpretation.
    • Shanti’s fingernails: No foreign DNA present.
    • North side rail interior: Indicative of blood, Shanti profile matched.
    • North side rail metal frame: Indicative of blood, Shanti profile matched.
    • Bedframe wooden slat: Indicative of blood, Shanti and David included.
    • Carpet near bed / victim’s head: Indicative of blood, Shanti profile matched.
    • Hairs from bathtub drain:
      • Hair 1: No DNA interpretation.
      • Hair 2: No DNA interpretation.
      • Hair 3: No DNA present.
    • White fitted sheet:
      • Stain 2: Positive for blood, Shanti and David included.
      • Stain 6: David profile matched.
      • Stain 11: Shanti and David included.
      • Stain 15 and 17: Male DNA.
      • Stain 19: No DNA interpretation.
    • White top sheet:
      • Stain 5: Indicative of blood, David matched.
      • Stain 9: Indicative of blood, Jackson matched.
      • Stain 19: Indicative of blood, David matched.
      • Stain 23: Indicative of blood, Jackson matched.
      • Stain 27: Indicative of blood, Jackson matched.
      • Stain 28: Indicative of blood, Jackson matched.
  • Gary Utz: Fmr. Deputy Chief Medical Examiner
    • Performed Shanti’s autopsy
    • Shanti’s blunt force trauma could be consistent with being punched, a fall, or any number of things.
    • Shanti’s cheek injury could be consistent with someone wearing a ring on their finger.
    • Shanti’s’ knee abrasions were most likely caused by dragging her body in a face down position.
    • Cause of death: Strangulation and blunt head trauma.
    • Manner of death: Homicide.
  • Det. Teresa Sprague: Orlando Homicide Investigator
    • She noticed Shanti’s skin wasn’t wet, the bathtub floor was dry, and the tub was dry. She said she was told Shanti had been found by David in a tub of water not breathing.
    • She executed multiple search warrants to collect all the items with blood and to try and find the inception of the event. She ultimately took apart the bed and collected blood from the side rail of this.
    • She characterized the bed and bedding to be “unusual.” She said the bed was disheveled, yet maid and the bedding didn’t match.
    • She noticed the balled-up sheets located in a closet went missing between the execution of two search warrants.
    • She found Shanti’s diamond ring at David’s mother’s house in a suitcase.
    • She said David told her that he and Shanti had menstrual sex on Saturday and Sunday, and that he chose to launder the sheets on Monday.

DAY 2 – 10/13/23

  • State Witness, Lori Cutcher: Worked with Shanti and was friends with her socially.
    • Learned Shanti had died on April 26, two days after her death, when she called Shanti’s work phone and David answered and told her.
        • Went to the house, David was crying and distraught.
        • Asked David if she could notify clients, found out he hadn’t told her family.
        • David never said Shanti had been murdered.
        • On cross, Cutcher stated that David was a nice guy, she believed they had a normal relationship, and she was not aware of trouble between them.
  • State Witness, Dana Duran: Shanti’s best friend and college roommate.
    • Relationship with David had lots of good points but was also rocky.
    • Often felt like a mediator between them when they would hang out.
    • Said Shanti was a strong beautiful woman who would stand up for herself.
    • Learned Shanti had died the Saturday after death (April 28).
  • State Witness, Keith Ori: Host: Zombie House Flipping
    • Said David cold called him about his house possibly being featured; Ori didn’t think it would work out.
    • About 6 months later, David called Ori again, went to see the house, and was shocked by its condition:
      • All the walls, support studs were gone, house was just the exterior shell and nothing on the inside.
      • Didn’t feel like the house was safe, went outside to discuss the possibility of working with his producers the possibility of working with David.
      • Described the work that had been done to the house as the “worst case of OCD” that he had ever seen.
      • David and Shanti wanted to do the show, insisted on meeting with them mid-April to discuss what it would be like to have the show shooting there.
      • Had difficulty scheduling the meeting, David was on-board but Shanti was difficult to nail down.
      • Finally met with them the week before her death, she seemed tense and intense and unhappy. Was only at the meeting for the absolute minimum amount of time she had to be there.
      • Figured David had the money to work with him as a consultant on the renovation (before talk began about the show) because he had paid $600K in cash for the house.
  • State Witness, Adam Frank: Forensic Accountant.
    • Didn’t see evidence that David and Shanti had financial difficulties.
    • March 2018 bank account balances:
      • Total amount in David’s accounts: $136,033.00
      • Total amount in Shanti’s accounts: $365,885.00
      • Total amount in joint accounts: $480,700.00
    • On cross, said he didn’t find any evidence of malfeasance.
    • Said transactions were notable, but not criminal.
  •  State Witness, Patrick McCarty: Life Insurance Agent.
    • Stated that Shanti had $350K life insurance policy and that David was the beneficiary.
    • On cross, said David had a $1.5M life insurance policy and Shanti was the beneficiary.
  • State Witness, Ralph Calatchi: Investigator, Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office.
    • Called to the crime scene twice.
    • The first time he examined Shanti’s clothes, he noted that they were wet and not in a “drying out” process.
    • Noted petechiae in Shanti’s eyes, which can be a physical indicator that someone has been asphyxiated or strangled.
    • On cross, stated that rigor-mortis was minimal, and it appeared she had passed away in the past 12 hours.
    • Also stated on cross that lividity was fixed.
  • State Witness, Barbara Sharp: Homicide Detective Trainee, Orlando Police Dept.
    • Was training to move from assault and battery detective to homicide detective.
    • Shadowed lead detective Theresa Sprague.
    • Involved in David’s police interview.
    • Never saw tears from him.
    • Left a photo of Shanti with him and never observed him crying while looking at the photo.
    • Participated in search of David’s mother’s home in August 2018 after he was arrested.
    • Recovered Shanti’s engagement ring.
    • On cross, stated that David was brought to the police dept. to be questioned about Shanti’s death, got there around 5p, and was held until the next morning.
    • Said David was left in interrogation room for several hours before he was questioned for the first time.
    • Said first round of questioning lasted about two hours.
    • Left in interrogation room also for several hours before second round of questioning.
    • Second round lasted several more hours.
    • David was not arrested and was released the next morning (it was daylight) to go home.
    • David was cooperative and pleasant.
  • State Witness Robert Woodyard, Digital Forensics Expert, Orlando Police Dept.
    • Examined electronics devices recovered from home.
    • Shanti had an iPhone Plus 8.
    • Last call made from Shanti’s phone was at 10:22pm to her ex-husband, James Coooper (her son Jackson’s father).
      • No other outgoing calls or texts from the phone after that.
    • Phone health data shows her phone last moved on April 23, 2018 at 11:19 and was active until 11:25pm. It was moved a distance of 9.07 meters or about 29 feet.
      Next movement shown to be on April 24, 2018 at 10:11p, when it was in police custody.
    • Jurors saw a video recovered from David’s phone that was shot on April 18, 2018. It showed Shanti and her son Jackson, coming down from the stairs of the garage apartment and saying goodbye to David.
      • The video continues as David shoots his garden area, the house under construction and upstairs in the garage apartment.

DAY 1 – 10/12/23