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Julie Schenecker pleads not guilty to killing children, keeps public defender

TAMPA — Three weeks after the deaths of her two children, Tampa Palms mother Julie Schenecker pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of first-degree murder at her arraignment in Hillsborough court.

Chained at the waist, wrists and ankles, she was walked into the courtroom, held at each arm by a deputy. When they sat her in a chair, she stared ahead. When the judge entered, Schenecker shut her eyes and breathed deeply.

Almost a dozen deputies stood guard as a precaution because of the national attention the case has drawn. They screened all who entered the courtroom for weapons.

It was the first time Schenecker, 50, has appeared in person since her Jan. 28 arrest, when cameras captured her shaking in the arms of police. She has confessed to fatally shooting her two teenagers a day earlier as part of a plan she described as a "massacre."

Calyx was 16. Beau was 13.

On Wednesday, her public defender, Robert Fraser, pleaded not guilty on her behalf — a standard move, even in cases where there has been a confession. It means prosecutors will continue to bear the burden of proving Schenecker's guilt.

The clerk's office deemed her unqualified for a public defender, who primarily represent the poor. But Circuit Judge Ashley Moody had the final say and took into consideration the cost of a defense of this magnitude — it could reach $250,000 — and the fact that Schenecker is incarcerated.

Her husband, Army Col. Parker Schenecker, did not attend the hearing. Fraser said that no one is helping Mrs. Schenecker pay for a private defense.

Moody appointed the Public Defender's Office, which plans to ask the judge to impose a lien on Schenecker's assets, which will likely include marital assets. Fraser said Col. Schenecker and his attorney are aware of that.

In an application for criminal indigent status, Mrs. Schenecker listed her assets, including a $20,000 bank account, $120,000 in mutual funds, $2,850 in rental income, $14,000 in savings and $17,000 equity in real estate. She put an asterisk next to them:

Owned with husband, she wrote.

"In the event Defendant's husband proceeds to dissolve their marriage," Fraser wrote in a court motion, "two cars owned by Defendant and the money market account will be marital assets subject to equitable distribution."

On the form, Schenecker listed more than $800,000 in liabilities and debts.

She also listed her number of dependents: 0.

Her husband was on duty overseas when police say Schenecker murdered their children. Prosecutors have not announced if they will seek the death penalty.

Public defenders, in court documents, say they have been acquiring, reviewing and outlining Schenecker's mental health records, contacting and retaining mental health experts and interviewing her family and friends.

After the hearing, a family representative issued this statement:

"Col. Parker Schenecker is currently out of the state and was unable to attend Wednesday's arraignment for Julie Schenecker. Currently, he is meeting with family members and close friends to formalize his plans to honor the memory of Calyx and Beau. At the same time, he is considering the best path to help him heal from this tragedy."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 310-2081.

On Wednesday, Julie Schenecker, 50, went in front of Judge Ashley Moody on charges that she killed her two teen children.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

On Wednesday, Julie Schenecker, 50, went in front of Judge Ashley Moody on charges that she killed her two teen children.

Julie Schenecker pleads not guilty to killing children, keeps public defender 02/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 17, 2011 7:28am]
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