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Sue Carlton: Schenecker murder case spotlights father's decision

Parker Schenecker holds a notebook on the witness stand during questioning Tuesday in the murder trial of his ex-wife, Julie Schenecker, who shot and killed their two teenage children in 2011. The jury must decide whether Julie Schenecker was legally insane at the time.

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Parker Schenecker holds a notebook on the witness stand during questioning Tuesday in the murder trial of his ex-wife, Julie Schenecker, who shot and killed their two teenage children in 2011. The jury must decide whether Julie Schenecker was legally insane at the time.

As the unthinkable murder case unfolded in a Tampa courtroom this week — a mother, methodically shooting her two teenagers in their upscale suburban home — the enormous question for the jury is whether Julie Schenecker was legally out of her mind when she did it.

Whether this woman, with her mental illnesses and her multiple medications, knew right from wrong when she plotted and pulled the trigger. Whether this mother who pronounced her children "mouthy" when she confessed was insane or simply evil.

But in a case that has attracted even fever-pitched cable maven Nancy Grace to the courtroom, another question has lingered.

What about the father?

What about the man who left son Beau, the 13-year-old who played basketball and street hockey on the cul-de-sac, and 16-year-old daughter Calyx, a bubbly high schooler who ran track, alone with this woman?

Bloggers and armchair jurors have not been kind to former Army Col. Parker Schenecker. He took the stand this week in his crisp charcoal jacket and light blue button-down, tight and stoic and every inch the military man.

He answered the prosecutor's questions levelly: how he asked his wife if she would be okay with his pending deployment to Qatar, how she looked him in the eye and said, "I got this."

He said they were working on the strain between mother and daughter, and that there had been counseling and plans to get Calyx to boarding school. No, he said, there was no hint of trouble when he last Skyped with his kids before they were murdered. "Lots of smiles," he said. A box of Kleenex sat nearby, untouched.

On the stand he called the woman to whom he had been married for two decades "the defendant" or his "ex-wife," having since divorced her. Only once or twice did I hear "Julie." And if you looked at the evidence, you would see emails between them back then were signed with love.

If there is another side to that question about how could he leave them with her, maybe it's this: How could he possibly have known something this horrific was to come?

How do you think the unthinkable?

Julie Schenecker's defense lawyers — who notably declined to question Parker Schenecker during the prosecution's case — will very likely call him back to the stand when they make their case for insanity starting today.

Maybe they will paint a picture of a father who left a damaged, demented woman, diagnosed with bipolar disorder and severe depression, alone with their children. Maybe the defense strategy will be to get the jury to focus the horror they surely must feel on him, to hold him responsible, because she was too crazy to know what she was doing.

At the crescendo of his testimony — in the final, reverberating last question — prosecutor Jay Pruner asked Schenecker what his wife said to him when he saw her again after she had murdered their children.

"The defendant said to me when I saw her, 'I guess I stomped your heart flat, huh?' " he said, steady and stoic still.

They say no one truly knows what goes on in marriage except the two people in it. And maybe only a father who has faced the unthinkable can know what he carries in his heart.

Sue Carlton: Schenecker murder case spotlights father's decision 05/08/14 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2014 7:00pm]

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