Thursday, May 15, 2014
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Two psychiatrists testifying for the prosecution Wednesday in the murder trial of a Tampa woman accused of killing her two teenage children told a jury that the former military wife was sane at the time of the shootings, contradicting several defense experts who have contended she was not in control of what she was doing.
Julie Schenecker, a 53-year-old former military wife, is on trial in Hillsborough County Court. She's been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Calyx, her 16-year-old daughter and Beau, her 13-year-old son. The teens were shot to death while her now ex-Army officer husband was on a 10-day deployment to the Middle East.
Wednesday was the seventh day of testimony with prosecutors presenting three health experts as rebuttal witnesses. All said she had a plan to kill the teens. Closing arguments were set for Thursday.
Schenecker's fate hinges on whether jurors believe she knew what she was doing when the teenagers were shot. If convicted of first-degree murder, Julie Schenecker would receive a life sentence, since prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty. If acquitted by reason of insanity, to which she is pleading, she would be committed to a hospital until she is no longer a danger to herself or others.
Two doctors said Schenecker had a plan to kill her children, and cited her journal writings that detailed the plan as evidence. They also said the fact that she drove to a gun shop, told a clerk she wanted a gun so she could protect herself and then returned following a three-day waiting period proves that she intended to kill her children.
Dr. Randy Otto told the jury that Schenecker told him that after she shot her children, she tried to manipulate Calyx's mouth into a smile. She also covered both the teens' bodies with blankets and kissed them, Otto said.
Defense attorneys say Schenecker suffered from bipolar disorder with psychotic features and depression, and that she was insane at the time of the January 2011 deaths in the family's Tampa home.
Her ex-husband, Col. Parker Schenecker, testified Tuesday that her mental illness was a constant "drum beat" in their 20-year-old marriage. The couple divorced after their children were killed.
Defense experts say that Schenecker bought the gun with the intent to kill herself. They also said that Schenecker was suffering from "delusions" that she was "saving" her children from embarrassment or killing them to save them from future harm or mental illness.
Upon questioning from Schenecker's lawyer, Dr. Donald Taylor did say that her mental condition was on a downward spiral in the months leading up to the crime.
"With the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that her mental condition was deteriorating," he said, adding that she should have been committed to a mental health facility.
Yet he maintained that despite that, Schenecker knew what she was doing was wrong.
Schenecker told the judge Tuesday that she wouldn't testify on her behalf and the defense rested.