A judge has denied a request for a new trial made by a Tampa mother found guilty of murdering her two teenage children more than a decade ago.
Julie Schenecker was convicted in 2014 of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13, three years earlier. On Friday, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco signed an order denying Schenecker’s request for a new trial, finding that she did not provide evidence to show that her public defenders were ineffective in representing her.
The murders happened on 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 by the effects of drugs. The crime stands among the most notorious and tragic in Tampa Bay history.
Schenecker, who was represented by the Hillsborough County Public Defender’s Office, mounted an insanity defense, which the jury rejected.
In an appeal she filed herself, Schenecker argued that the public defenders in her trial were ineffective in representing her. In a written response to Schenecker’s appeals, state prosecutors conceded that a hearing was necessary to address some of the claims. Sisco presided over that evidentiary hearing in October.
In the order signed Friday, Sisco ruled on 17 claims Schenecker made. They included an argument that lawyers should have asked to move her trial out of Hillsborough County because, Schenecker said, extensive local news coverage tainted the jury. She also said her defense did not present particular pieces of evidence or call certain witnesses, including herself, who could have bolstered her insanity defense.
Sisco ruled that Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Spradley accounted for the publicity during jury selection and that Schenecker failed to prove that a change-of-venue motion, if filed, would have been granted.
Sisco also found that Spradley made “reasonable, strategic” decisions not to call the witnesses Schenecker cited — they included her mother-in-law and several medical professionals who treated Schenecker, among others — and that their testimony would not have changed the outcome of the trial.
On the claim that Schenecker herself should have testified, Sisco found that Spradley “accurately advised Defendant several times of her right to testify, but Defendant never advised Ms. Spradley that she wanted to testify.”
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One of the medical professionals Schenecker maintains should have been called to testify is Harry Krop, who she claims met with her multiple times and determined that she was insane at the time she killed her children. She said the defense refused to call Krop because “he would not be popular with the jury due to being on the defense ‘who got Casey Anthony off.’”
However, Spradley testified that Krop wasn’t called to testify because he was not sure if Schenecker was insane at the time or not. Sisco said: “Spradley had no good-faith basis to call expert Dr. Harry Krop or file the alleged motion in limine when Dr. Krop could not definitively say that Defendant was insane at the time of the crime.”
Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt did not immediately respond Friday to a message from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment on Sisco’s ruling.
“This is something that, as a criminal defense lawyer, you anticipate because it is an opportunity for a client to have another court look at their case,” Holt told the Times last year. “I’m confident the work we did was good work. And I think the testimony of my attorneys will clearly show how much work and effort went to the defense of Ms. Schenecker.”