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Carlton column: In Schenecker case, a verdict but not an answer

Julie Schenecker apologizes on May 15 in a Tampa courtroom after she was found guilty of murdering her two teenagers.

LARA CERRI | Times

Julie Schenecker apologizes on May 15 in a Tampa courtroom after she was found guilty of murdering her two teenagers.

The salon blond of the suburban mom was gone from her hair, now mousy and escaping wildly from a messy braid at the nape of her neck. She wore no discernible makeup, the kind a Tampa Palms mom might put on for a trip to Target or the kids' soccer carpool, just a naked, empty face in the courtroom.

And even after days of watching Julie Schenecker on trial for the murders of her own children, of hearing that she was either insane or knew exactly what she was doing, you could not know what was behind that face.

She did not take the stand to defend herself, but after the jury said "guilty" swiftly on Thursday — surprising pretty much no one — she stood to speak before the judge.

"I know I shot my son and daughter," she said. "I don't know why.'' And no matter how you felt about those doctors' differing opinions, maybe like me you believed at least this.

Haggard and strange, rambling but lucid, Schenecker apologized to everyone — friends, family, strangers — and praised the judge, her public defenders, the justice system even. She said she was sorry if children might have heard how she shot her own — Beau, 13, still in the family van in the garage, and then daughter Calyx, 16, who was upstairs doing homework — and wonder about their own mother.

But really, did the words matter? The kids were still gone.

Notably, she did not mention her now ex-husband, father of their murdered children, who sat still as a stone in the courtroom. Stoic on the witness stand, blamed by those who asked how he could have left his children with this damaged person, former Army Col. Parker Schenecker remains a mystery.

Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty to appease the angry, and that was right. When Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner showed the jury the worst of the photographs, thankfully he angled them so courtroom spectators could not see what was there.

But there were other photos in the news: a Schenecker family portrait, everyone smiling in Santa hats. Beau with his fishing pole, Calyx running track. Dad and the kids on a beach somewhere. A younger, softer Julie with her babies. It makes no sense.

Under the law, that jury of women and men, mothers and fathers, had to determine if she knew what she was doing, if she knew it was wrong. She was depressed and heavily medicated and drinking and she had bipolar disorder. She also deliberately bought a gun and lied about why, waited the waiting period and planned her plans. Under the law, the verdict was probably not all that complicated.

The guilty-so-say-we-all gave cable TV mouthpiece Nancy Grace one last chance to gnash teeth and dab tears before moving on to the next juicy case. The judge, Emmett Lamar Battles, did not use the moment of reckoning to wring hands or thunder pronouncements from the bench. He said levelly that it was almost too much to comprehend what brought everyone there. Then he pronounced the state-mandated punishment that she will never be free again. That was all. It has to be enough.

And so she was led away by bailiffs to begin the rest of her life in prison, disappearing like smoke out a courtroom side door. Then everyone left quietly. There was nothing to be glad of here — a verdict and an ending but not an answer.

Carlton column: In Schenecker case, a verdict but not an answer 05/16/14 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2014 8:41pm]
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