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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
Crime & Courts

Jury selection difficult in Schenecker murder trial

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Published:   |   Updated: April 30, 2014 at 02:24 PM

TAMPA — Based on the people called as potential jurors for her trial, Julie Schenecker is notorious in the Tampa area.

The majority of an initial group of 100 potential jurors told a judge Monday they know something about the case of the Tampa Palms woman who authorities said fatally shot her teen-aged children because they were “mouthy.”

And most of those interviewed said they think Schenecker is guilty.

Schenecker is standing trial on charges she murdered her 13-year-old son, Beau, and her 16-year-old daughter, Calyx, in January 2011.

Schenecker’s lawyers have notified the court they plan an insanity defense on the grounds she suffered from bipolar disorder with psychotic features at the time of the killings. The trial is expected to last three weeks.

Jury selection is likely to stretch out for days. On Monday, Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles, along with the prosecution and defense lawyers, began the process of individually talking to jury candidates about their knowledge of the case and their excuses for being unable to serve for the length of the trial.

If Monday’s experience is any indication, finding 12 jurors plus four alternates who can leave their jobs and responsibilities for three weeks and be impartial and fair will be a challenge.

Out of 100 jury candidates, 76 told the judge they either knew something about the case or had a hardship excuse or both. Of 35 who were interviewed individually, about 20 were excused from service.

With one exception, every jury candidate who gave an opinion said Schenecker is guilty.

One man, who said he had military background, said he believes Schenecker was suffering from mental illness, based on the television footage he saw. “My bias is such that I believe the defendant to be not guilty,” he said, explaining he knows about issues with mental health services provided to military families like the Scheneckers.

He was excused from serving on the jury.

At the other end of the spectrum was a man who said he strongly believes Schenecker to be guilty based on all he’s heard about the case. “I wish I didn’t hear all that,” he said.

He was excused.

Some who said they believed Schenecker killed her children were allowed to remain in the jury pool because they also said they could judge the case based solely what is presented in court.

Jury selection is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning. After potential jurors are screened for knowledge of the case and potential hardship excuses, the judge and attorneys will begin asking other questions, such as their opinions about mental illness or whether they’ve been crime victims.

One woman said Monday that she felt “just sadness over the whole situation.”

She was excused from serving on the jury.

Another woman gave a lengthy, detailed and mostly accurate accounting of what has been reported in news accounts of the case, including that Schenecker’s husband was overseas on a military deployment at the time of the killings and that authorities said Schenecker told investigators she killed the children and was going to kill herself.

Asked her opinion about Schenecker’s guilt or innocence, the woman said, “I’m not sure I understand the question because I don’t think there’s any doubt that - I think it’s all going to come down to whether or not the defense proves an insanity claim, I believe. I’ve read the state is not going to go after the death penalty.” And, she added, “I think she’s the one who did it, pulled the trigger. I’ve never heard anything that anyone else did it.”

She was excused from serving on the jury.

Then there was the woman who said she’s a middle school teacher who would be distracted thinking about her students over the three-week trial. And, she added, “It would take a lot to convince me that she’s not guilty.”

Excused.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7837

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