TAMPA — Julie Schenecker’s lawyers have persuaded prosecutors to change their minds about seeking a death sentence for the woman accused of murdering her two teenage children in 2011.
Defense lawyers provided “overwhelming evidence of mitigation due to the mental health issues of the defendant,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office, which continued, “it was determined that the imposition of the death penalty in this case would not withstand the scrutiny of the Florida Supreme Court.”
Prosecutors had no further comment and would not say whether Schenecker’s ex-husband, Parker Schenecker, had been consulted. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Julie Schenecker suffers from bipolar disorder with psychotic features, according to the defense’s October court filing asserting an insanity defense in the killings of her children, Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13.
Authorities said Julie Schenecker shot Calyx because she was “mouthy” and Beau because he sassed back after soccer practice.
Her public defender, Jennifer Spradley, had no comment Tuesday on the prosecution’s announcement.
Parker Schenecker, an intelligence officer assigned to U.S. Central Command, was in Qatar on Jan. 28, 2011, when police said his wife shot their children. He filed for divorce the next month and they were officially divorced in May 2011.
In August 2011, the prosecution announced it would seek the death penalty. On Monday, the prosecution notified the defense it was withdrawing its notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
Legal experts weren’t surprised that prosecutors backed down, given what seems to be clear evidence of the defendant’s serious mental illness.
According to court documents, Julie Schenecker was first diagnosed with depression in 1992 and treated with medication. From 1997 to 2001, she was medicated daily except for when she was pregnant and nursing, her attorneys said.
“If they have overwhelming evidence that’s pervasive, then that’s an appropriate decision by the state,” said Charles Rose, professor at Stetson Law School. “You can’t get the death penalty without the premeditation.”
Rose said Schenecker might even avoid prison and instead be placed in a mental health facility. “She seems to fit the very narrow arc of folks who wind up in those sort of hospitals for the criminally insane,” Rose said.
Lawyer John Fitzgibbons, who is not involved in the Schenecker case, said the prosecution decision makes sense. “It is clear that she is horribly mentally ill,” he said. “I don’t think there would be a jury in America that would recommend death.”
From the day Schenecker was arrested and television cameras showed her severely trembling in a paper police-issued jumpsuit, her mental condition has been a focus of the case.
The children’s bodies were found aat the family’s New Tampa home. Investigators at the scene noted Julie Schenecker’s bed was unmade and empty pill bottles of oxycodone, hydrocodone, lithium, amoxicillin and others were scattered around her bedroom. Several of the medications were for pain. Some were anti-psychotics, blood thinners or mood stabilizers.
A family friend told police that a few weeks before the slayings, Julie Schenecker had been released from a drug rehabilitation program in Safety Harbor and the entire family was in counseling.
In January, authorities released 55 pages of emails between Schenecker and her husband and concerned relatives that portrayed her as losing her grip on reality in the months and years before the killings.
The night before the killings, she emailed her family:
“It’s really difficult and I’m so sick mentally,” the email said. “I minimally take care of the kids ... sad to say.
“Beaus has also developed Calyx’s attitude — makes me cry evening ... seeing what they’ve become. As far as 180 from their former daring selves.
“I will end this soon, though,” she wrote. “I am at my wits end.”