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Emotions run high during jury selection in Julie Schenecker murder trial

Julie Schenecker, second from left, watches potential jurors enter the courtroom on Thursday. Jury selection continues today. She is accused of killing her two teenage children.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Julie Schenecker, second from left, watches potential jurors enter the courtroom on Thursday. Jury selection continues today. She is accused of killing her two teenage children.

TAMPA — Emotions flared on Thursday as attorneys began to question a pool of 90 prospective jurors in the trial of Julie Schenecker, the New Tampa mother accused of murdering her two teenage children in 2011.

After three days of interviewing jurors individually to gauge their level of exposure to media coverage of the killings, attorneys began asking them about events in their lives that might bias them. Prosecutors wanted to know if the jurors had served in the military, how much schooling they'd had and whether they had any children.

The two victims in the case were 16 and 13 years old when they were killed, prosecutor Jay Pruner reminded the jurors. He asked if that fact would prevent anyone from being fair.

Two female jurors began to cry. Separately, they told Pruner that they wanted to have children, but hadn't been able to conceive.

"We don't have any children and not for lack of trying, just no luck," said one woman.

After jury selection ended Wednesday, she went home and thought about the case, she said. The prospect of spending two more weeks immersed in the story of a woman accused killed her own children was too much to handle.

Both of the women were excused.

By the end of the fourth day of jury selection, 69 potential jurors remained.

Many of those sent home said they had children and couldn't debate questions of Schenecker's guilt or innocence with an open mind.

"I mean no disrespect, but I'm not impartial to this case," said a father of two, who was later excused. "The last person children should have to look over their shoulder for is their parents."

Other potential jurors were dismissed after they told attorneys that they wouldn't support the insanity defense, which Schenecker's attorneys plan to use in the trial. Still more were removed from the pool when they said their experiences with mental illness made them more likely to support such a defense.

"I think I have more than the average sympathy for people with mental illness," said a man whose aunt committed suicide when he was young. Though defense attorneys argued that he should remain in the pool, he was ultimately excused.

Prosecutors also focused on potential jurors' military experience, asking whether anyone had served or had friends or family in the service. Pruner appeared particularly interested in whether jurors had moved frequently, as military families often do. Schenecker and her ex-husband former Army Col. Parker Schenecker were in the military for years.

Though the process of jury selection is time-consuming and the questioning is painstaking, there were moments of levity.

As the day drew to a close, the prosecutor shifted to asking jurors about their arrest histories and whether anyone they knew had been charged with a crime.

"I was arrested but found innocent in the '70s for growing a couple marijuana plants in my college dorm room," offered one man.

There was a pause. "That was a class project, wasn't it?" said the prosecutor.

The process of choosing 12 jurors and four alternates is likely to continue through today. Schenecker's trial is expected to begin on Monday.

Emotions run high during jury selection in Julie Schenecker murder trial 05/01/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2014 11:32am]
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