Advertisement
  1. News

State won't seek death penalty for Julie Schenecker in kids' deaths

Julie Schenecker, 53, is accused of shooting her two children to death at their Tampa Palms home on Jan. 27, 2011.
Published Apr. 2, 2014

TAMPA — Three years after saying they would seek the death penalty against a New Tampa woman accused of fatally shooting her two children, prosecutors have reversed course and will seek a sentence of life without parole.

Julie Schenecker's mental health issues are so severe that the state Supreme Court would not uphold a death sentence, the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said Tuesday. At the same time, they remain unconvinced that Schenecker is not guilty by reason of insanity, the defense that her attorneys will use at trial later this month.

"After being provided overwhelming evidence of mitigation due to the mental health issues of the defendant, it was determined that the imposition of the death penalty in this case would not withstand the scrutiny of the Florida Supreme Court," Hillsborough state attorney spokesman Mark Cox said in a written statement.

Prosecutors say Schenecker, 53, shot her two children, Calyx and Beau, at their Tampa Palms home on Jan. 27, 2011. She shot her 13-year-old son after driving him home from soccer practice, then walked upstairs and shot her daughter Calyx, 16, as she was doing homework, police said.

Schenecker, who has a history of mental illness, told police she was tired of them talking back.

Her attorneys could not be reached for comment Tuesday. They have said Schenecker was being treated for depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse at the time of the shootings. Her trial is scheduled for April 28.

Emails between Schenecker and her then-husband, Parker Schenecker, show that their children didn't want her to drive them anymore after she got into a car crash while drunk and high on OxyContin. She went to a drug rehabilitation center but returned home lethargic and refused to get out of bed, according to emails.

In the hours after her children's deaths, Schenecker sent her family garbled messages that could only have made sense to her and urged Parker to come home from his Army deployment in Qatar.

"it's really difficult and i'm so sickmentally," she wrote. "i will end this soon.though i am at my wits end."

The Scheneckers got divorced after the killings. Parker Schenecker said through a spokeswoman Tuesday that he had no objections to prosecutors' decision.

"I will trust that the state attorney's decision not to pursue the death penalty in their case against my ex-wife is the best way for them to defend my children Calyx and Beau in the upcoming proceedings and ensure their voices are heard through the legal system," said Schenecker, a retired Army colonel.

Attorneys familiar with death penalty cases said the state attorney's decision is not surprising. Schenecker's history of mental health problems would have weighed heavily in prosecutors' decisionmaking and might have influenced the jury.

"Just based on what I've read about her background and her history of mental illness, I don't know that a jury would give her the death penalty," said Lyann Goudie, a Tampa criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. "It would depend on the egregiousness of it all, if they really believed it was a premeditated killing."

In Schenecker, jurors might see a woman who drove to Lock N Load in Oldsmar to buy a gun and returned three days later to pick it up at the end of the waiting period. Or they might see the Schenecker who has, in past court appearances, presented as an almost ghostly figure, disconnected from the proceedings around her and their bearing on her future.

"When you compare this to other cases and past experience … you realize this is not an appropriate death penalty case," said Tampa criminal defense attorney Joe Episcopo. "I doubt very much she'd get the death penalty."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at aphillips@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3354.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. In body camera video released by police, two officers search the home from the outside with flashlights before one shouts, "Put your hands up, show me your hands." One shot is then fired through a window. Photo from video/Associated Press
    The shooting occurred after a neighbor called the police non-emergency line to report that the front door to the home was open.
  2. In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, residents welcome Syrian soldiers shortly after they entered the northern town of Tal Tamr on Monday, Oct 14, 2019. The move toward Tal Tamr came a day after Syria's Kurds said Syrian government forces agreed to help them fend off Turkey's invasion — a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S. troops withdrawn from the northern border area amid the rapidly deepening chaos. AP
    The announcement of a deal between Syria’s Kurds and its government is a major shift in alliances that came after President Donald Trump ordered all U.S.
  3. Alachua County school superintendent Karen Clarke welcomes the crowd at a "listening session" Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019 to discuss changes in the Florida's education standards. A similar session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Jefferson High, 4401 W Cypress St. in Tampa. The Florida Channel
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  4. Tampa City Council members don't agree on much when it comes to the city's eight Community Redevelopment Areas. CHARLIE FRAGO  |  Charlie Frago
    Some City Council members say the popular redevelopment tools are unfair to other neighborhoods.
  5. Central High School student Samantha Lewis, 17, shows her Angus Cross heffer Annabell, 1, Saturday morning during the Open Beef Show at the Hernando County Fair and Youth Livestock Show at the fairgrounds. The fair and livestock show will run through April 16. For more information, call 352-796-4552 or visit hernandofairgrounds.com. HERNANDO TODAY PHOTO BY HAYLEY M  |  Hernando Today
    Hernando County Fair Association plans meet with skepticism from county commissioners and Brooksville City Council members.
  6. The graves of Caroline and Thomas Hicks are among nine found to have been moved out of the long-forgotten Zion Cemetery along North Florida Avenue. They were reburied in Memorial Park, believed to be the second African-American cemetery in Tampa. JAMES BORCHUCK  |
    The story of the pioneer Tampa family might help explain the disappearance of the place where some 800 African-Americans were buried.
  7. Pasco County Property Appraiser Gary Joiner (left) and County Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. (R) are both Republicans running for Pasco Property Appraiser in 2020. Handout photo
    State law requires him to resign effective November 2020, opening up an election for the District 4 Pasco County Commission seat.
  8. Families enjoy carnival rides at the 2018 Rattlesnake Festival at the Pasco County Fairgrounds. The festival returns Oct. 18-20, kicking off with a concert featuring the Bellamy Brothers on Friday and food, entertainment and educational activities throughout the weekend. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Musicals, art exhibits and other things to do in Pasco and Hernando counties
  9. Festival goers move through the midway during the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church's annual Ethnic Festival. This year's festival will be Oct. 17-20 at the church on Spring Hill Drive at Coronado Drive. Tampa Bay Times | 2010
    The 28th-annual Ethnic Festival returns to St. Joan of Arc.
  10. Legislative delegation meeting allows lawmakers to hear requests from local elected officials and civic organizations
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement