Tampa, FL -- A psychologist says Julie Schenecker thought she was saving her kids when she killed them.
The 53-year-old New Tampa mother is accused of killing her 16-year-old daughter Calyx and 13-year-old son Beau in January of 2011.
Psychologist Eldra Solomon says Schenecker was, in fact, insane when she shot the children and in the week leading up to the murders. Solomon says Julie Schenecker was sexually molested as a child, and started to exhibit characteristics that she was bipolar and depressed decades ago.
Schenecker's condition, says Solomon, worsened in the months leading up to the killings when she began to self-medicate – or decline medication. She says Schenecker believed her daughter was also becoming bipolar and that her son Beau was in danger of also being molested the way she was as a child.
At that point, Solomon says Schenecker began to exhibit thoughts of suicide, but could not bring herself to do it, until convincing herself that if she killed the kids too, she'd be saving them.
Then, she said, Julie Schenecker could take her own life.
"I just need to preface this is by saying sane people don't kill their children," said Solomon, when asked the direct question regarding Schenecker's state of mind.
Solomon says people are wired to protect their children, not kill them.
"They may be able to kill other people's children," she said, "but that sane people have it wired in their DNA to protect their children."
Solomon says she asked Schenecker in her jail cell after the murders if she knew right from wrong and legal from illegal, but that the defendant told her she never thought about it. In Solomon's words, Schenecker was "on auto-pilot."
The question will come down to whether the jury accepts the insanity defense. In Julie Schenecker's own journal, her entries concentrated far more on her children being disrespectful and "mouthy" than a need to somehow save them by killing them.
Solomon called the journal "ramblings."
Under cross-examination, Solomon admitted there was nothing in the medical records that would have led her to "Baker Act" Schenecker -- institutionalize her for being a threat to herself or others.
The next witness called was a psychiatrist who interviewed Schenecker after her arrest. Dr, Michael Maher.
"So she was legally insane at the time of this incident, in your opinion?" prosecutors asked him.
"That is my conclusion, yes," said Dr. Maher.
Later, Dr. Michael Maher -- who said he had interviewed Schenecker a dozen times, concurred with Solomon's conclusion that Schenecker was insane -- and under the delusion that she was protecting her children from becoming like her.
"And she was not aware of what she was doing in any sense of the humanity of it. The horror of it," said Dr. Maher, "The absolute lack of necessity. None of this had to happen."
Prosecutors relentlessly cross-examined Dr. Maher, knowing the insanity defense hinges on the question of knowing right from wrong. They pointed to Julie Schenecker's journal, in which she uses the word "massacre." They pointed out her confession to police that this was the worst thing she'd ever done, and concerns about her actions leading to incarceration.
And they pointed out that when Ms. Schenecker bought the gun, she told the sales clerk it was for protection after a rash of neighborhood robberies... not to kill her kids.
That exchange forced Dr. Maher to admit that Schenecker did know that society would not support her actions, had she disclosed her true motives.
"So at least on some level, this defendant was able to understand that somebody else, in this case the person selling the gun, might think it was wrong for her to buy the gun for the purpose of killing herself and the kids?"
''Absolutely correct, yes," said Dr. Maher.
That answer goes to heart of Schenecker's defense, and her ability to discern right from wrong.
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