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Julie Schenecker returns to Tampa court, 11 years after killing her children

A jury rejected the Tampa mother’s insanity defense in 2014. She now seeks a new trial.
Julie Schenecker testifies in a Tampa courtroom Monday in a hearing on her request for a new trial. Schenecker was convicted in 2014 of murdering her two teenage children.
Julie Schenecker testifies in a Tampa courtroom Monday in a hearing on her request for a new trial. Schenecker was convicted in 2014 of murdering her two teenage children. [ WTVT-Fox 13 ]
Published Oct. 3|Updated Oct. 3

TAMPA — It has been eight years since a Tampa jury rejected Julie Schenecker’s insanity defense to charges that she murdered her two teenage children.

On Monday, Schenecker took the witness stand as she seeks another chance to make her case.

Schenecker, 61, testified in a lengthy court hearing to determine whether she should receive a new trial for the murders of Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13. The crime stands among the most notorious and tragic in Tampa Bay history.

Beau Schenecker, left, and Calyx Schenecker, right, appear in a family photo.
Beau Schenecker, left, and Calyx Schenecker, right, appear in a family photo.

It happened Jan. 28, 2011. Tampa police were called that day to a welfare check at the family’s Tampa Palms home. Inside, officers found both children shot. They found their mother on the home’s swimming pool lanai. She was alive, but dazed from the effects of drugs.

Her trial featured testimony from family members and mental health professionals, who described her struggles against what was identified as bipolar disorder. Public defenders argued that Schenecker’s mental state was such that she didn’t understand what she was doing or that it was wrong.

A key piece of evidence was her handwritten journal, in which she’d written of her plans to buy a gun and kill her children and herself.

Schenecker was sentenced to life in prison. An appeals court upheld her convictions. But her post-conviction efforts continue.

Monday’s hearing addressed her latest claims, which include allegations that her lawyers didn’t call certain witnesses or didn’t pursue certain avenues that would have helped her case. She also claims she was pressured not to testify.

Schenecker sat clad in a red jail uniform, her thin blonde hair hanging midway down her back. She answered questions from her new lawyer and a prosecutor. She spoke of her sometimes fuzzy memories of her trial and everything leading up to it. She appeared confused at times. Her words carried a slight slur.

She was asked if she remembered a judge asking if she wanted to testify.

“I remember,” she said with a smile.

She was asked if she remembered the judge asking many questions, including whether she’d had enough time to discuss it with her lawyers, and whether anyone had pressured her.

She said she’d read that part of her trial transcript.

“I was very bothered by my answers,” she said.

She mentioned that her lawyers warned her that a prosecutor would “eat you alive” on cross examination. She said she felt “bullied.”

A significant focus of Monday’s proceedings had to do with Schenecker’s medication regime.

The court heard from Daniel Buffington, a pharmacologist who said he was tapped by Schenecker’s defense team to examine her before the trial. He said Schenecker showed symptoms of what’s known as tardive dyskinesia. It’s a condition characterized by involuntary and repetitive muscle movements. It is a side effect of certain medications, and if not immediately addressed it can become permanent, he said.

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It was an indication that she was having complications from a change in her medication, he said. But Buffington was not called as a witness in her trial.

Her then-husband, Army Col. Parker Schenecker, said he noticed his wife’s facial tics in the weeks before the murders. He took video of it and told her she should discuss it with her doctor.

He described his wife’s troubled moods, sluggishness, how she stayed in bed much of the time. He said the family had been through counseling. There was talk of divorce. He also mentioned times when his wife attacked him physically.

Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty asked if he believed his wife was insane when the crimes occurred. He said he did not.

“Did you believe this was a premeditated act against both of your children?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes m’am, I did.”

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