TAMPA — Three years ago, as he was preparing to travel overseas, former Army Col. Parker Schenecker turned to his wife and asked if she'd be okay during his deployment.
She looked him square in the eyes, he recalled on Tuesday, having taken the witness stand in second day of Julie Schenecker's murder trial. "I got this," she said.
Days after he boarded a plane to Qatar, police say, Julie Schenecker drove to Oldsmar to buy the revolver and bullets she used to kill the couple's children.
If his decision to leave his two teenagers in his wife's care for what was expected to be a two-week deployment has haunted the former colonel, he gave no sign of it as he was questioned by prosecutors Tuesday.
Schenecker told the jury he'd had no reason to distrust his wife, whom he divorced in 2011, months after she was charged with two counts of first-degree murder. She was drinking more — enough to alarm him —but he felt no hesitation. When he talked to his children several days into his trip, they seemed untroubled as well, he said.
Through more than an hour of testimony that touched on Parker and Julie Schenecker's roughly 20-year marriage, Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner did not press him to explain why he had placed such confidence in a woman who would later tell police she had been in bed for eight weeks. A woman who was taking as many as a dozen medications, some of them for bipolar disorder.
Attorneys for Julie Schenecker may recall him at a later point in the trial to question him. They argue that she was insane when she killed her children, unable to tell right from wrong.
Schenecker, 51, retired from the Army in 2011, but he has the bearing of a man who will forever consider himself a soldier. Through a week of jury selection and two days of trial, he has sat on the courthouse's punishing wooden benches, virtually expressionless. He speaks in military parlance, using words like "subsist" and "logistical." When called on to relay a conversation with his former wife, he began: "What was communicated to me by the defendant was . . ."
On Tuesday, prosecutors asked Schenecker questions that highlighted actions by his ex-wife that seemed vindictive.
He explained to jurors how he typically parked his car in a certain place in the family's three-car garage. But after his wife shot their 13-year-old son Beau in the front seat of the family's van, she returned to their home in Tampa Palms and took her husband's parking spot.
Back inside the house, Julie Schenecker left a post-it note on the bottom stair. "Sorry about your parking space – had to leave it for Beau (my darling precious child)."
A similar message was posted on the family's calendar, affixed to the box for Feb. 1, 2011, the day Parker Schenecker was scheduled to return from Afghanistan. "Beau is in the van," it read. "Calyx is in her bed tried to make her comfortable."
Throughout his testimony, Schenecker trained his gaze on his family members in the back of the courtroom, particularly his mother, a petite and immaculately dressed woman who, during difficult moments in the trial, has held a handkerchief to her face. He rarely turned to look at his former wife and she seemed not to notice his presence.
Schenecker told the jury that he had gone to see his then-wife in February 2011, not long after she was charged with murdering their son and 16-year-old daughter, for which she faces life in prison. He recalled how she said to him: "I guess I stomped your heart flat, huh?"
Reading from the same notebook prosecutors used on Monday to portray Julie Schenecker, 53, as a scheming killer, defense attorneys pointed out new passages on Tuesday. Written in the hours after the children were killed, and skipped over by the prosecution, the journal entries reveal her warped reasoning.
"If you're wondering why I decided to take out the kids, it's to protect them," she'd written.
Driven to thoughts of suicide, she said she feared she had already passed her depression on to her children. She also wrote about killing herself by overdosing on prescription pills, inhaling carbon monoxide or using her gun, her last resort.
"Kids of suicidal parents tend to commit suicide themselves," she wrote in her spiral notebook "Calyx has talked about suicide since she was 12.
"I believe that I have saved them from the pain."
Read aloud in court by a Tampa police crime scene technician, some of Schenecker's entries were garbled and illegible. One page contained nothing but the words: "You're a failure."
On another page, she'd scribbled an apology to her husband.
"Parker, I'm sorry, so sorry, I don't know what to say, but I sensed divorce was inevitable," she wrote. "But I can't live alone."
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.