Julie Schenecker Murder Trial FAQ

TAMPA, Fla. - As Julie Schenecker's lawyers begin presenting her defense, here's vital background if you're following the trial.

Background

Schenecker is the Tampa mother accused of shooting her two children, Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13, in January 2011.

When police arrived at the family's New Tampa home, they found Beau shot to death in the backseat of the family car and Calyx's lifeless body in an upstairs bedroom, according to police. Schenecker, a former military intelligence officer and interrogator, was on the back porch in her pajamas and robe, covered in blood.

Schenecker's husband, Col. Parker Schenecker, was deployed overseas at Qatar at the time of the murders. The couple met while in the Army in Germany in 1987. They were married in Louisiana in 1991.
 
Schenecker has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Her lawyers are presenting an insanity defense, arguing she has suffered from bipolar disorder and depression for decades. If found guilty, Schenecker faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The trial began with jury selection April 28 and continued with opening statements May 5.

During the trial, the state played for the jury the audio interview of Schenecker by a Tampa Police homicide detective shortly after her arrest.

During that interview, Schenecker, slurring her words, told the detective in detail how she carried out the shootings, where she bought the gun and how she planned to commit suicide. She discussed the medications she was on, what she had taken and how she consumed alcohol the night of the shootings.

Click to read the full transcript of the Julie Schenecker interview.

Schenecker also wrote about her plans to shoot the children in her journal, which was read on the stand by a Tampa Police crime scene technician during his testimony. 

Legal analyst Jeffrey Swartz with Cooley Law School answers some of our viewers' frequently asked questions:

  1. What is the legal definition of insane?

    Insanity in Florida is statutorily defined. It is what we called in the common law the "M'Naughten Test." In order for the defendant to be not guilty by reason of insanity, he or she must have suffered a mental disease or defect at the time of the offense that resulted in the defendant not understanding the nature and consequences of his or her act and did not know the difference between right and wrong.

  2. Is guilty but mentally ill an option as a verdict in this case?

    No, that verdict is not available in Florida. It is in Michigan and Arizona and some other states, but not Florida.

  3. Why was the death penalty taken off the table? 
     
    The death penalty was taken off the table because the state has acknowledged that, although her mental condition does not equate to "legal insanity," she is substantially impaired by her mental illness. Her mental condition is a significant, and most important factor, in mitigation of the death penalty. The state did not believe that any of the other statutory criteria as a aggravating factors were sufficient enough to overcome this factor. Also, the "victim" in this case (the father of the children) agreed to a waiver of the death penalty.
  4. If she is found not guilty by reason of insanity, could she be released back into society?

    Yes, she could be released upon a court order after an evidentiary hearing in which the court would determine, based upon psychiatric testimony, that she is no longer a danger to herself or society.  It does happen...

  5. What was the significance of asking the homicide detective about the recording capabilities during the interview? Where were they going with that?

    It's always a defense tactic to attack the veracity of a statement or confession by showing the jury that there was a better way to preserve the defendant's words. For example, why did you only use audio tape when you could have video taped the statement so we could see her expressions as well as hear her words and we can see the interaction between the officer and the defendant?

  6. Schenecker has already admitted to killing her children. What was the importance of the forensic analysis and presenting all the evidence in court? 
     
    Even though the defendant has admitted to killing her children, there is evidentiary value in the forensics. It corroborates her testimony and also impeaches it on specifics of what occurred. The state still must prove that a murder was committed and that the defendant committed that crime. She has moved to exclude her confession. In order for denial of that motion to become insignificant in an appeal, the state would rather show that the defendant is guilty without her confessions. They may choose not to put on her confessions until their rebuttal case.
     
  7. Can you tell me what her penalty is if she is found not guilty by reason of insanity? Does she go to a state hospital for a predetermined amount of time? 
     
    There is no definite time for her treatment if she is found not guilty by reason of insanity. She will be committed for treatment. She will be evaluated periodically. When there is a recommendation of release, she will be brought to court. After an evidentiary hearing, a judge will decide if he or she agrees that the the defendant is no longer a danger to herself or the community and either to recommit her or release her.
 
 
If you have more questions, tweet your question to @ActionNewsCourt or join us for a live chat during the trial. You can join the chat and watch online here: wfts.tv/1jGWUtl
 
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