Tampa military mother convicted of murdering of her two children and sentenced to life

TAMPA, Fla. - Jurors have found Julie Schenecker guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the slayings of her teenage children.

The jurors deliberated for about two hours before returning the verdict.
Before the judge sentenced her to the mandatory life in prison without the possibility of parole, Schenecker apologized to everyone for the murders.

“I hope they can collect themselves as best as possible. All of us. Not just this courtroom. Anybody who knew our family,” she said. “Everyone has been so deeply affected, and I understand there are people who are affected by this who may have just read about it in the paper or maybe a child who looked at their mommy and said, ‘Mommy, are you ever going to shoot me?’”

She said she takes responsibility for the deaths.

"I was there. I know," said Schenecker, her voice anguished. "I know I shot my son and daughter. I don't know why."

"I know our children are in heaven," she said at the end of her statement. "I want people to try to find comfort in the feeling, as I do, that they are in no pain, and they are alive and enjoying everything and anything Heaven has to offer. Jesus is protecting them and keeping them safe until we get there.”
Parker Schenecker, her former husband, read a statement to reporters shortly after the sentencing. He said the verdict allows their family to move forward.

“The most important thing in all of this has been Calyx and Beau, my lovely children. My smart, beautiful and missed daughter and son," he said. "Giving them voice has been my priority through this entire process.”

In the closing arguments, a prosecutor described Schenecker as "desperate, depressed, angry" over the inevitability of divorce and fearful of a life alone.

"These were deliberate, well-planned, well-implemented and concealed homicides," State Prosecutor Jay Pruner told the jury, while showing them Schenecker's journal entries, the gun she used, and taking note for jurors specific language she used.

"I off-ed Beau on the way to practice," said Pruner, reading from Schenecker's writings. 

"She laid it out for us in detail," said Pruner, arguing her journal entries were proof of her clarity of thought and reflection.

"Focus on the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the offense. That is the critical time frame," he said.

Pruner's closing argument lasted about 40 minutes.

Schenecker fatally shot Calyx, her 16-year-old daughter, and Beau, her 13-year-old son. The teens were killed while her now ex-husband was on a 10-day Army deployment to the Middle East.

She had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The state detailed the shootings of both children, showing jurors crime scene photos and asking that jurors focus on Schenecker's mind at the time of the killings. "In the state of Florida, all persons are presumed to be sane," said Pruner.

The defense had the burden of proving Schenecker was insane at the time of the shootings.

Defense attorney Jennifer Spradley said during her closing argument there is no dispute that Schenecker shot her two children in January 2011, but that jurors needed to focus on her mental illness and whether she knew right from wrong.

After explaining some of the juror instructions, including the verdict form, Spradley told jurors to remember Schenecker's treatment and how severe her mental illness is. None of the experts who testified dispute Schenecker's mental illness, Spradley explained, which is bipolar 1 with psychotic features.

"She didn't choose this illness," Spradley said. "This illness chose her."

Spradley also cited instances from Schenecker's medical records of psychotic tendencies, from illusions of her comforter changing into angels, to thoughts of using a hair from a comb of a psychiatrist to impregnate herself.

Schenecker's attorney told jurors that the woman was legally insane when she pulled the trigger. "When she is firing the shots, she's hoping it's going to be the three of them. The three of them against the world. Together forever, healthy," Spradley said.

"A verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is a reflection of her mental illness and her psychosis and her taking responsibility," Spradley said before resting.

During its rebuttal, the state said the motive behind the shootings was emotional betrayal and anger, fueled by mental illness, depression, alcohol and drug abuse.

Pruner read journal entries written by Schenecker where she addressed her now ex-husband, saying the shootings could have been done at anytime and if Parker Schenecker were home, then she might have killed him, too.

"And here's the kicker. 'That would have been a crying shame,'" said Pruner, quoting Schenecker's notes. "Do you see the seething resentment?" he asked jurors.

"I implore you...to return verdicts of guilty as charged

as to each count of the indictment," Pruner said before resting the state's case.

All six mental health experts who testified during the trial said Schenecker was mentally ill, but the three called by prosecutors said she was legally sane when she shot her children.

Defense attorneys said Schenecker is so affected by bipolar disorder and depression that she doesn't know right from wrong. Under Florida law, the inability to tell right from wrong is one of the criteria for a not guilty by reason of insanity plea.

Testimony showed that Schenecker bought a .38-caliber handgun the weekend before the shooting, telling the gun store clerk she wanted it for home protection. But in her journal, she lamented the three-day wait for a background check, writing she had planned a weekend massacre. When she collected the gun, she bought more lethal hollow-point bullets.

A few days later on the way to soccer practice in the family minivan, she shot Beau twice -- once in the side of the head and once in his mouth.

She turned around, drove home and parked in the garage. Schenecker approached Calyx from behind and shot her once in the head and once in the mouth.

Schenecker wrote about the shootings in her journals, saying that she shot both teens in "their mouthy mouths."

She also put a sticky note on the calendar that said, "Beau is in the van on the way to practice. Calyx is in her bed, tried to make her comfortable."

Schenecker told detectives after her arrest, "This is the worst thing I've ever done."

Schenecker also wrote that she wanted to kill herself and wanted to be cremated with her children, their ashes mixed together. She mentioned that she was going to try to move her son's body into her bed and wanted to die next to him.

"Beau and I are going to heaven," she wrote. "Wish heaven for Calyx too."

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