TAMPA — Within minutes after she says she killed her children, Julie Schenecker sent an unusual email to her husband, an Army colonel who was stationed in the Middle East.
“Get home soon,” she wrote. “We’re waiting for you!”
She had never responded like that before,” Parker Schenecker testified in his wife’s murder trial, where he had been called today as a defense witness. The email was sent 7:33 p.m. Jan. 27, 201, by his then-wife was in response to an email he’d sent letting her know he’d arrived safely in Qatar back from Afghanistan.
Julie Schenecker has said she shot their 13-year-old son, Beau, as she was driving him to soccer practice that day. Parker Schenecker testified that soccer practice would have started at 7 p.m. The defendant said she turned the car around, parked in the family garage and then went upstairs and shot their daughter, Calyx, 16.
Police found Julie Schenecker the next morning barely conscious and reeking of alcohol on the lanai next to the family’s pool. Sometime after she killed the children, Julie Schenecker tried to kill herself, but passed out from drugs she overdosed on, according to evidence in the trial.
The defense is arguing that Julie Schenecker was legally insane when she killed her children.
The defense rested late today, and the prosecution was scheduled to begin presenting testimony Wednesday morning to rebut defense experts relating to Schenecker’s sanity. The defendant told Circuit Judge Emmet Lamar Battles at the end of the day today that she had spoken extensively with her lawyers and decided not to testify.
Parker Schenecker, who was previously called as a prosecution witness, was called by the defense today to take the stand a second time. But in addition to testifying about their family’s experiences with his then-wife’s mental illness, the retired military colonel also answered prosecution questions about his interactions with the defendant in the weeks before the killings.
Parker Schenecker testified he tried to communicate with the defendant’s psychiatrist about her treatment and concerns he had, but the doctor said he couldn’t share information because of privacy laws. He sent an email asking his wife to sign a waiver so he could talk to the doctor.
“Hell no!” she wrote back. “Sorry about your luck.”
After she rear-ended a truck driving drunk on her way to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting less than three months before the killing, Parker Schenecker wouldn’t let her into the house. She stayed in a hotel one night and then he took her to a rehab facility in Pinellas County, where he visited her as much as two to three times a day.
She became angry, Parker Schenecker testified, when he took the kids to the Panhandle for a family Thanksgiving celebration, but did not take her out of treatment for the gathering.
After she was out of rehab and refused in December 2010 to sign the privacy waiver, he sent her a long email expressing his concern for the children and their safety if she were to drive them while drinking. He said the fact that she wouldn’t get out of bed and refusing to join in family activities was bringing the children’s “continued disappointment in and disdain for” their mother.
“You’re losing your connection with them,” he added.
The kids, he added, “don’t feel safe with you driving … The hard part of this is they’ve asked for protection from their mother.”
Parker Schenecker testified that after she got out of rehab, his wife “pretty much holed up in the bedroom most of the day,” refusing to come out until his mother, who had been helping out, left.
The relationship between Julie Schenecker and Calyx had deteriorated to the point that the teen was looking into going to boarding school “to find a way for peace” between mother and daughter, Parker Schenecker testified.
Schenecker testified his wife struggled with mental illness for most of their relationship. Between 2000 and 2002, when they lived in Virginia, she volunteered for a program at the National Institute of Mental Health where they experimented with treating depression by applying magnetic waves to the brain.
Defense expert psychiatrist Wade Myers said Julie Schenecker began having manic symptoms during the treatment, and took months to stabilize. When she left, she was taking five different mood-stabilizing drugs and one anti-psychotic medication.
Myers testified Schenecker sharply deteriorated after being released from rehab in November 2010, and her mental illness affected her relationship with her family, particularly her daughter. Around that time, Schenecker told her therapist she thought about suicide daily, Myers testified.
The defense expert said Schenecker was insane when she shot her children, unable to understand the difference between right and wrong.
She had, he said, “A delusional belief that this was in the best interests of her children … This was going to solve their pain, the dangers of the world.” Schenecker also thought, he said, that “all the pain and misery of life was going to end there. This was God’s will. God was directing all this. She was doing what was in her heart morally justified.”
Hours before the shooting, Schenecker says she went to the Hard Rock casino and gambled, Myers testified under cross-examination by Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner.
After killing the children, she left notes on the front door of their house telling the carpool that the family had gone to New York City.
Myers said Schenecker did this because, “She thought this was personal family time.”