State to seek death penalty in mother's murder case

Julie Schenecker, 50, of Tampa is accused of fatally shooting her two children, 16-year-old Calyx and 13-year-old Beau, in January.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Julie Schenecker, 50, of Tampa is accused of fatally shooting her two children, 16-year-old Calyx and 13-year-old Beau, in January.

TAMPA — Prosecutors notified Julie Schenecker's public defender Friday that they will seek the death penalty for the 50-year-old Tampa mother accused of fatally shooting her two teenage children on Jan. 27.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office would not comment on the decision, but the death penalty had been a consideration since her arrest. The Public Defender's Office named attorney Robert Fraser to represent Schenecker partly because he is certified by the state for death penalty cases.

A Florida statute lists 15 "aggravators" that prosecutors can present in support of the death penalty. Juries weigh those against "mitigators" presented by the defense.

Some Tampa lawyers said Friday that prosecutors could present several possible aggravators in the case against Schenecker. They could argue that the shootings were premeditated, that they were committed simultaneously, that the victims were children and that Schenecker was their caretaker.

"Those four are very strong," said attorney Lyann Goudie, "and only one aggravator can do it."

At the time of the shootings, Schenecker was being treated for depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. Detectives found numerous prescribed medications in the house. A close friend told them that the medicines were not "meshing."

Fraser, Schenecker's public defender, hasn't indicated which mitigators he would cite or whether he will use an insanity defense. One Tampa defense attorney, Grady Irvin, believes that may be her best defense. "Mental state is always an issue," he said.

He said that most people watching TV accounts of the slayings asked themselves, "What mother would kill her child?" And when they saw her in custody — eyes rolled back, shaking uncontrollably — he said they probably concluded, "She must be crazy."

Schenecker's children were slain after school — Calyx, 16, was shot at a computer, then wheeled in a chair to her bed; Beau, 13, was found still belted into the family van, shot in the head, his blood-stained glasses removed and propped on the dashboard. Their mother was found lying in the patio, incoherent.

Their father, Parker Schenecker, an Army colonel, was deployed to the Middle East. He said his wife struggled with mental health problems throughout their marriage. They are now divorced.

People who have bipolar disorder rarely commit murder, but Irvin said the defense might try to show that the disorder or her medications created a psychosis at the time that left Schenecker unable to understand what she was doing or that it was wrong.

"The trial," he said, "is going to be a battle of medical experts."

John Barry can be reached at jbarry@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

State to seek death penalty in mother's murder case 08/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:46pm]

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