Schenecker jury to decide her sanity

Tampa, Florida -- With testimony over, it's in the jury's hands. The murder trial of Julie Schenecker ended with some very emotional and often technical closing arguments Thursday.

Schenecker's defense lawyers say the 53-year-old was insane when she killed her two teenagers. Prosecutors paint a much different picture, even suggesting anger was a motive. Both sides repeatedly referred to Julie Schenecker's own tell-all journal.

The new Tampa mother plotted -- waiting, prosecutors say, until her husband, Ret. Army Col. Parker Schenecker, was out of the country and unable to protect their children.

"She laid it out for us. For you," said prosecutor Jay Pruner.

Pruner argued the journal shows Schenecker bought the gun on Saturday and was upset by a three-day waiting period. She eagerly planned a Thursday "massacre" and shot her son Beau as he sat retrained in the passenger seat of the family mini-van. In the journal, she refers to Beau's shooting as "offing" him, undermining the defense's contention she was somehow "saving" him, said Pruner.

Then Calyx.

Graphic crime-scene photos shared with the jury were shielded from the family's view. A hollow-point bullet to the head, Pruner said, killed the 16-year-old honor student, "And then, for good measure, shot her in her mouth. Her mouthy mouth."

Schenecker's defense attorney Jennifer Spradley spent a lot of time talking about the law and definition of insanity. Her client hadn't chosen mental illness, Spradely said, mental illness had chosen her.

The children, she said, were Schenecker's life, and in death she did believe they'd all be better off.

"And if it doesn't make sense to you, it's because it's psychotic. You cannot put a healthy logical reason behind psychosis. It doesn't make sense that a mother who didn't really discipline her children would shoot them in the mouth for being mouthy," said Spradley.

Spradley also repeatedly reassured jurors if they find Schenecker was insane, the 53-year-old doesn't necessarily walk. That, she says, is up for the judge to decide.

While those jurors will almost certainly all agree that Julie Schenecker was and is mentally ill, the question they face after going through all of the evidence and all the expert testimony, is whether she had the capacity to tell right from wrong.

VIDEO: Interview with Schenecker alternate juror

"This is 100% her broken, psychotic mind," said Spradley.

Her defense attorneys say after more than 20 years, her psychosis had become so severe that her occasional thoughts of suicide turned to homicide. The deaths of her own children would free her to kill herself and save them -- in her mind -- from a future like her own, as well as the stigma of having had a parent commit suicide.

"This is a biological disaster," said Spradley.

A healthy Julie Schenecker would never have killed her children, Spradley told jurors. She loved them.

"Concentrate on her state of mind," she said. "We're not asking you to find her not guilty. We're asking you to find her not guilty by reason of insanity because Ms. Schenecker did not realize what she was doing was right or wrong. She believed it was right."

But prosecutors say the evidence is overwhelming that Julie Schenecker, while mentally ill, was not insane. Her journal, riddled with planning, plotting contains words and actions, they say, that reflect a clear appreciation for right and wrong.

Schenecker was filled with anger and a fear of isolation, prosecutors told the jury. She'd planned to kill herself and lash out at her ex-husband Parker by taking their children too.

"She wanted Parker to find the horror. The massacre," and I submit to you, said Pruner, "lashing out at him when she wrote 'hurry home – we're waiting for you.' "

While no one knows what this jury will decide, as they begin deliberations, court watchers say consider this:

No one has successfully used the insanity defense in 25 years in Hillsborough County, and in less than 1% of all felony cases is the insanity defense even attempted. In that tiny number of cases, it's only been successful about 1/5 of the time.


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