It was stunning testimony offered Wednesday at the trial of the 53-year-old soccer mom who is charged with shooting her teenage children in their upscale Tampa community. When Dr. Randy Otto, a psychologist retained by the prosecution, talked about Schenecker’s macabre treatment of her daughter’s body, several jurors glanced at Schenecker, who stared at her legal pad.
For the past two weeks, the 12 jurors and 4 alternates have listened intently to the proceedings. The nine men and seven women, ranging in age from late 20s to late 60s, often take notes on the white legal pads provided by the court. When they return to the windowless jury room, they will have a decision to make: Was Julie Schenecker sane when she killed 16-year-old Calyx and 13-year-old Beau?
As the case draws to a close, the jurors will likely have to answer some difficult questions. The stakes are very high: If they find her guilty, she’ll spend the rest of her life in prison. If she’s found not guilty by reason of insanity, she’ll be sent to a mental institution until she is no longer a threat to herself or others.
Did She Know Right from Wrong?
There is no question that Schenecker has battled mental illness for decades. But, as prosecutors point out, most people with mental illness do not become homicidal. In order for Schenecker to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, jurors need to believe that she didn’t know the difference between right and wrong.
Prosecutors spent several days of testimony trying to prove that the killing was a calculated murder. In the week before killing her children, Schenecker scribbled furiously in her spiral-bound notebook, planning “a Saturday massacre.” She wrote, “The evil starts Tuesday.” After the shooting, she wrote an apology to her husband, Parker Schenecker. Witnesses told the jury that Schenecker lied to the gun store clerk, telling him that she needed the gun for self defense from burglars who had been breaking into homes in her neighborhood. After she used the gun, she left notes on her front door, telling people that she and her family had gone on vacation to New York.
Experts told the jury that her repeated deceptions and written admissions prove that she knew killing her children was illegal. “She knew beforehand that what she was going to do was wrong,” said forensic psychiatrist Dr. Donald Taylor. “She knew as well, afterwards.”
Added Dr. Otto: “I don’t think this is a close call. Despite the fact that she was experiencing severe mental illness, she did know that she was killing her children … and she did know that that was wrong.”
Defense experts testified earlier in the week that she believed she was killing her children to protect them. She thought Calyx was showing signs of bipolar disorder and was convinced that her son was going to be sexually molested – claims that seemed to have no basis in reality.
What Happened After the Killings?
Minutes after the killings, Schenecker picked up her pen and wrote in her journal again. “I ve offed Beau on the way to practice,” she wrote. “He saw the gun and told me to put it back in the purse. Had a healthy fight, then when we got home, a shot to his mouth. He became so mouthy, just like Calyx.”
After shooting Calyx in her bedroom, Schenecker tried to move the bodies. According to testimony, she moved Calyx into her bed, tried to manipulate her face into a smile, and then covered her with a blanket. She left Beau in the front seat of the car. “She was not as easy because I rolled the chair by her clean bed. Beau is so cold and hard. I wish I could put him in my bed. That’s where he slept happily. I just can’t lift him. I surely wish I could. We’re going home today. Take us home Lord.”