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Julie Schenecker returns to Tampa court eleven years after her children’s murder

TAMPA — It has been eight years since a jury in Tampa dismissed Julie Schenecker’s insanity defense on charges of murdering her two teenage children.

On Monday, Schenecker took the stand as she looks for another chance to plead her case.

Schenecker, 61, testified in a lengthy court hearing to determine if she should get a new trial for the murders of Calyx, 16, and Beau, 13. The crime is among the most notorious and tragic in Tampa Bay history.

Beau Schenecker, left, and Calyx Schenecker, right, appear in a family photo.
Beau Schenecker, left, and Calyx Schenecker, right, appear in a family photo.

It happened on January 28, 2011. The Tampa Police Department was called to a social security check at the family’s Tampa Palms home that day. Inside, officers found both children shot dead. They found her mother on the pool porch of the house. She was alive but dizzy from the effects of the drugs.

Her trial included testimony from family members and mental health professionals who described her struggles with what has been identified as bipolar disorder. Public defenders argued that Schenecker’s state of mind was such that she didn’t understand what she was doing or that it was wrong.

A key piece of evidence was her handwritten journal, in which she had written about her plans to buy a gun and kill her children and herself.

Schenecker was sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeals court upheld her convictions. But her post-conviction efforts continue.

Monday’s hearing addressed her recent allegations, including allegations that her attorneys failed to call certain witnesses or follow certain avenues that helped her case. She also claims she was pressured not to testify.

Schenecker sat in a red prison uniform, her thin blond hair hanging down the center of her back. She answered questions from her new attorney and a prosecutor. She spoke of her sometimes hazy memories of her trial and all that led up to it. She seemed confused at times. Her words wore a slight bow.

She was asked if she remembered a judge asking her if she wanted to testify.

“I remember,” she said with a smile.

She was asked if she remembered the judge asking many questions, including whether she had had enough time to talk to her lawyers about it and whether anyone was pressuring her.

She said she read that part of her trial log.

“I was very concerned about my answers,” she said.

She mentioned that her lawyers had warned her that a prosecutor would “eat her alive” under cross-examination. She said she felt “bullied.”

A key focus of Monday’s proceedings had to do with Schenecker’s drug regimen.

The court heard from Daniel Buffington, a pharmacologist, who said he was tapped by Schenecker’s defense team to examine her before the trial. He said Schenecker had displayed symptoms of something called tardive dyskinesia. It’s a condition characterized by involuntary and repetitive muscle movements. It’s a side effect of certain medications, and if not treated right away, it can become permanent, he said.

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It’s an indication that she’s having complications from changing her medication, he said. But Buffington was not called as a witness at her trial.

Her then-husband, Army Col. Parker Schenecker, said he noticed his wife’s facial features in the weeks leading up to the murders. He made a video of it and told her to discuss it with her doctor.

He described his wife’s restless mood, her sluggishness, how she stayed in bed most of the time. He said the family had been advised. There was talk of divorce. He also mentioned instances when his wife physically assaulted him.

Assistant District Attorney Michelle Doherty asked if he thought his wife was insane when the crimes took place. He said he didn’t.

“Did you believe that this was a premeditated act against your two children?” asked the prosecutor.

“Yes ma’am, I have.”

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