TAMPA — Finding people who know next to nothing about one of Hillsborough County's most high-profile and tragic crimes has proved difficult.
By the close of the third day of jury selection Wednesday for the three-week trial of Julie Schenecker, the New Tampa mother accused of murdering her two children in 2011, attorneys had dismissed one out of every two jurors they'd interviewed. Of those sent home, many admitted that they had concluded long ago that Schenecker was guilty, and they couldn't be the "clean slate" attorneys were seeking.
Some had children and became emotional when seated feet away from a woman who is accused of killing her own. Some had seen video footage of Schenecker shaking in Tampa police officers' arms, and pronounced her "crazy" and "distraught."
One young man said he had known Calyx Schenecker, the defendant's 16-year-old daughter, from King High School. He had attended the vigil. He said he couldn't be impartial.
As he finished speaking, Schenecker, 53, began to cry.
It was the rare juror who took pity on her.
"I remember thinking how difficult it must be to be mentally unstable and then to have the burden of caring for two teenagers," one woman sympathized. She was excused.
From a pool of roughly 180 prospective jurors, attorneys settled on 90. It was less than they had hoped for — they were aiming for 100 — but as the day went on it became clear they wouldn't reach that goal. Even so, it took an additional hour of jury selection to find 90.
Today, attorneys will continue questioning people in this pool. They'll ultimately select 12 jurors and four alternates, a process likely to take the rest of the week. The trial is scheduled to begin Monday.
Complicating an already difficult task, two potential jurors were dismissed on Wednesday, one for talking about the case while other jurors were present and the other for being influenced by the conversation.
"We were just shooting the breeze," juror number 105 told Circuit Court Judge Emmett L. Battles. "I discussed a couple things I'd heard on the news. That she had shot her two children, and it was pretty terrible."
A middle-aged man with a ponytail, juror 105's name was not made public, as jurors' identities are kept confidential during a trial.
He had been sitting and waiting for hours on Monday, he said, when he speculated aloud that the long wait probably meant they were being considered for Schenecker's trial.
His audience was "a couple of ladies," who didn't chide him for speaking, he said. As in all trials, the jury pool was warned by the judge not to discuss the case with each other or anyone outside the courthouse. But the warning came after the juror's remarks.
Battles dismissed one of those women, juror 131, who said she had learned what little she knew about the case from juror 105's comments.
Since her arrest in 2011, Schenecker has been in jail awaiting trial on two charges of first-degree murder. Police say she shot her children while her husband was away on a military deployment. Schenecker later told police that she was tired of the children talking back.
Her defense attorneys are expected to present evidence that she was insane at the time of the killings. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.