TAMPA — A eight-man, four-woman jury with four alternates was seated just after 6 p.m. today in the murder trial of Julie Schenecker, charged in the shooting deaths of her two teenage children in 2011. Opening statements in the trial are expected Monday morning.
The task of selecting a jury was not easy.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been at it since Monday, and this afternoon, defense attorney Charles Traina hammered potential jurors on their thoughts on the insanity defense. A big part of the defense is that she was insane on the day of the shootings.
Traina wanted to know if the prospective jurors believed that insanity was a valid defense. Most agreed that it was, but one did not.
Juror 139 said he would have reservations about declaring Schenecker not guilty of the crimes because of her state of mind.
“Insanity doesn’t absolve what you did,” the potential juror said. “If I did something, I did it. I can’t say I didn’t take my meds or something else.” He said doing that meant that “I would not be responsible and did not suffer the ramifications for my actions.”
The exchange prompted Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles to read a portion of the law that says even if a defendant is found innocent by reason of insanity, that doesn’t mean the defendant walks free. It’s up to the judge, he said, to determine a suitable course of action, including ordering the defendant into a mental health hospital for an extended period of time.
That set many jurors’ minds at ease, but not Juror 139, who said he still had reservations about the issue.
He later was excused by the court, after defense attorneys raised objetcions.
Many of the potential jurors have been excused because they either know about the case or the anticipated three-week trial would be a hardship. Today, a handful of potential jurors were excused after they said the images of dead children would be too traumatic for them.
“This is a homicide case,” Traina said. “This is a double-homicide case. Two teenagers lost their lives. This is of the utmost serious nature and it demands your full attention in that regard.”
Several said they would be uncomfortable viewing the crime scene photographs.
“I think I’m a fair and impartial person,” said Juror 7. I’ve been searching my heart and mind over this and I don’t know how fair and impartial I can be once I learn some of the details.”
Juror 7 was later excused.
Juror 61 was dismissed because he had a hearing problem.
Sixty-five remained Friday morning from a jury pool of about 250 who showed up on Monday.
Today, potential jurors also were asked about their experiences with medical and mental health issues. Traina sought to gauge the attitudes of the panel on those issues, which are expected to play a big part of the trial. Traina is expected to argue that his client was legally insane when she shot her 16-year-old daughter, Calyx, and son, Beau, 13, and that her medications were responsible for some of her disorientation on that January 2011 day.
Traina asked nearly two dozen people whether their knowledge of medicine and experience with mental health issues would cloud their judgment in this case.
Juror 162 said he was a principal at a charter school and had to watch over students with mental issues and the administration of medications.
“I absolutely had to deal with students who didn’t take their medications,” he said.
Later in the morning, Traina talked about guns.
“Who owns a gun?” he asked. Thirty people raised their hands. They told the court one by one what kinds of firearms they owned and how well acquainted they were with gun laws and safety regulations.
Some said they had only a gun or two that they inherited or were given and never have fired. Others were active gun owners, who target practice or hunt.
Juror 12, when asked how many guns he had, replied: “More than I can count in my head right now.”
Traina finished his questioning of the jurors around 4:30 p.m. and both sides left the courtroom to discuss which jurors to dismiss.