Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawyers say they need a year to review computer files in Schenecker case

TAMPA — For months, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody has tried to pin down the Public Defender's Office on how much evidence is on computers taken from the home of Julie Schenecker, her husband and the two teenage children she is accused of murdering.

Next week, Moody gets her answer: 1.14 million separate files that lawyers say will take a year to read.

Two national experts in computer forensics say a million files sound probable, but question the need for Schenecker's defenders to read them all — even in a death-penalty case.

"The old idea of linear review — of a defense attorney laying his eye on every page — is not a feasible idea in the digital age," said Craig Ball, a court-appointed special master and consultant in computer forensics and e-discovery in Austin, Texas.

All year, the Public Defender's Office has described a bottomless pit of emails, Internet searches, Facebook exchanges and thousands of other data retrieved from five computers in the Schenecker home after the children's deaths in January 2011. Somewhere in there could be evidence against Schenecker, 51. She has pleaded not guilty to two counts of premeditated first-degree murder.

The murders shocked the bay area. Schenecker is charged with using a .38-caliber pistol to shoot her 13-year-old son Beau in the head after driving him home from soccer practice. Police said Schenecker then walked upstairs and shot her 16-year-old daughter Calyx in the back of the head as she did her homework. Schenecker stayed in the Tampa Palms house all night. Law enforcement discovered Schenecker the next morning after they got a call from her mother in Texas, who was unable to reach her and feared that she was depressed.

Schenecker told police she shot her children because she was tired of them talking back to her.

The judge in Schenecker's case has been told that all the data needs to be combed by attorneys to determine what is evidence and what is not. "This is completely unprecedented," Assistant Public Defender Robert Fraser said in June. "The manpower needed is almost impossible to predict."

After Moody demanded a firm count of the data and a deadline for review, Fraser and Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner agreed in writing that there were 93 DVDs of "forensically acquired" evidence from the five computers. Those were examined by a court-appointed expert in electronic discovery, Tampa attorney William Hamilton.

"The defense estimates a manual review of each of the 1,140,087 files will take approximately 2,071 hours or 51.78 weeks," the response said.

Neither Texas expert Ball nor Glenn Dardick, editor-in-chief of the Virginia-based Journal of Digital Forensics, Security and Law, questioned that the Schenecker computers contained a million files. Computers in any home might contain an equal number, they said. Neither expert was familiar with the Schenecker case.

But they contended Friday that there are basic, inexpensive ways to quickly winnow out tens of thousands of data that have no relevance.

Dardick cited a legal principle called "Occam's Razor," the law of parsimony, which he translates as "that which is not relevant is cut away."

Irrelevant data would include thousands of installation files and program files such as Microsoft Office common in every computer.

Other irrelevant files could include "substantial duplication of data," Ball said, such as emails copied into multiple computers.

In this case, attorneys are looking for evidence of premeditation or evidence of mental incapacity. Schenecker has a long mental health and drug history, and among her emails was one to her mother that was considered suicidal.

But Dardick said filtering of the data could eliminate many mundane files, such as visits to the Weather Channel or searching for shoes on A lot of that, he said, could be identified by simple keyword searches.

Ball said lay people who are not lawyers, but who are trained in discovery searches, could cull obviously harmless data. When there's doubt, data could be set aside for attorney review, he said, "but most information doesn't fall into a gray area. It comes to a point where a lawyer looking at everything is not reasonable or practical."

Neither the State Attorney's Office nor Public Defender's Office commented on Friday. Judge Moody is scheduled to review the matter on Friday.

Times Researcher John Martin contributed to this story. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or

Lawyers say they need a year to review computer files in Schenecker case 08/03/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 4, 2012 12:35am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  2. What do kids need to stay away from deadly auto theft epidemic?

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — More than a dozen black teenagers told U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist on Wednesday that children need stronger mentors and youth programs to steer clear of the auto theft epidemic plaguing Pinellas County.

    Congressman Charlie Crist (center) listens as Shenyah Ruth (right), a junior at Northeast High School, talks during Wednesday's youth roundtable meeting with community leaders and kids. They met to discuss the ongoing car theft epidemic among Pinellas youth and how law enforcement, elected officials, and community organizations can work together to put an end to this dangerous trend. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  3. Manahattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman


    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  4. Bucs talk social issues, protests at team meeting


    TAMPA — Each time Dirk Koetter walks through the door of his office at One Buc Place, he passes by the only jersey framed on his wall.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) wears custom cleats to represent Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE) as part of the NFL???‚??„?s "My Cause, My Cleats Campaign" before the start of a football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016.
  5. UPS relocates express operations from St. Pete-Clearwater to TIA


    TAMPA — United Parcel Service Inc. is switching airports for its express air operations. Beginning in October, UPS will relocate from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport.

    Beginning in October, UPS will move from St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport to Tampa International Airport. [Associated Press file photo]