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Jurors say Julie Schenecker's murder journal sealed her fate

With the jury in deliberations, Julie Schenecker is escorted from Judge Emmett Lamar Battles’ courtroom on Thursday in Tampa.
With the jury in deliberations, Julie Schenecker is escorted from Judge Emmett Lamar Battles’ courtroom on Thursday in Tampa.
Published May 17, 2014

TAMPA — After three years of investigation and hundreds of emails seized by detectives, the murder trial of Julie Schenecker came down to the blue spiral notebook she left on her bed.

It is a wide-ruled, single-subject notebook, a staple of drugstore school supply aisles. It belonged to her 13-year-old son, Beau, whose name is written neatly on its cover along with the subject "Language Arts."

But inside, almost all of the writing is Schenecker's. In the days before and after she killed her two children in January 2011, Schenecker picked up a pink plastic flower pen and filled pages with her plan to buy a gun and turn it on herself and her kids.

Asked how it could have taken them only two hours Thursday to reject an insanity defense and find Schenecker guilty of the murders, jurors pointed to her notebook, essentially saying: She told us in her own words.

"We had some discussion on how do you really know what is going on through someone's mind," said Cheri Kendall, a juror from Tampa. "That's when we decided to pull out the journal and read from cover to cover."

Schenecker's journal has become the founding document of her crime. Three years after her arrest, techniques used to pick up fingerprints have left it yellow and covered in purple splotches. Though many of its most stomach-turning passages have been read aloud in court, its complete contents had not been made public until now.

Read in its entirety, it's a window into moments of grotesque lucidity followed by incoherence, likely fueled by her bipolar disorder, pain killers and alcohol.

Along with warnings of a coming "massacre" and her promise that "the evil starts Thursday," Schenecker devoted pages to planning what should be done after she and her children were found dead.

"I have no idea where to do the memorial service," she wrote, suggesting a few possible locations, including the Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club. She wanted their bodies to be donated to science, but she also asked to be cremated and have her children's ashes mixed with hers. Her clothes should be given away, she instructed, and she wanted her family and girlfriends to be informed of her passing.

"Maybe post it on facebook," she wrote, listing her username and password. "Everyone I know & love is on facebook."

"This lady, in my opinion, orchestrated everything from front to back, including final arrangements," jury foreman Charles Madison said Friday. "Whenever you start writing a journal out about what you're going to do and how you're going to do it . . . you can't say you're crazy."

In order to find Schenecker, 53, not guilty by reason of insanity — the defense her attorneys used — jurors would have had to unanimously agree that her mental illness prevented her from distinguishing right from wrong. Defense attorneys said she was certain that shooting her children was the right thing to do.

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In the pages of her notebook, she'd worried over the possibility that her kids had inherited her DNA and would become bipolar. Like her, they would experience wild mood swings and delusional episodes. Like her, they would take potent medications that would make them tremble.

"If you're wondering why I decided to take out the kids it's to protect them from embarrassing them for the rest of their lives," she wrote.

But in the pages of her notebook, jurors found many reasons to believe otherwise.

She had shot her 16-year-old daughter Calyx once in the head and once in the mouth — "her sassy little mouth," she wrote — after doing the same to her son.

That didn't seem like something someone would do to protect the children, jurors said.

She had been furious at her daughter and her husband, prosecutors said. In her journal, she devoted an entire page to listing perceived slights against her, supposedly perpetrated by Calyx.

"Sprayed lysol in my face when I came in from smoking," she wrote. "Wants to euthanize one of the cats."

"said recently 'If I commit suicide it's all your fault!' "

Beau had been her "ally" she wrote, and Calyx had been the "bully." Now with her husband traveling overseas in the military, she was all alone with two teenagers who held her in little regard. Her daughter drove her to drink, she said, refusing in another entry to believe she was an alcoholic.

"She was angry and desperate, just as the prosecution laid out yesterday," her ex-husband, former Army Col. Parker Schenecker, told reporters Friday.

It's the rare journal that's written not to be read someday, and Julie Schenecker wasn't a secretive diarist. When police found the blood-stained notebook, it was opened to her last entry on Jan. 27: "We're going Home today. Take us home Lord"

But there were other entries, times when her typically small and neat penmanship veered off at sharp angles, when there was no other audience but her addled mind. Days later, she would reread her work and find it "incomprehensible."

At the top of one page she wrote only: "You're a failure."

In the hours after she killed her children, she returned to the journal.

"I have really lost my mind," she wrote. ". . . I'm so sad, my two babies! It was too easy to take them out."


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