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Army colonel testifies on ex-wife's mental illness at murder trial

May. 13, 2014 - 07:16PM   |  
Parker Schenecker
Army Col. Parker Schenecker, the former husband of Julie Schenecker, watches the proceedings during the April 28 jury selection in Julie Scheneker's murder trial in Tampa, Fla. Julie has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the January 2011 deaths of her two children. (Jay Conner / AP)
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TAMPA, FLA. — The Army officer ex-husband of a woman accused of killing their two teenagers while he was deployed told a jury on Tuesday that her mental illness was a constant “drum beat” in their 20-year marriage.

Julie Schenecker is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. The state is not seeking the death penalty and contends Schenecker knew right from wrong when she bought a gun and shot her children while her then-husband was on a 10-day deployment to the Middle East in late January 2011.

Late Tuesday, in a clear voice, the 53-year-old Schenecker told Judge Emmett Battles that she would not testify in her defense. A short time later, her attorneys rested their side with closing arguments expected Wednesday.

During morning testimony, her Army officer ex-husband Parker Schenecker, 51, testified for the defense, then was cross-examined by prosecutors, with testimony lasting more than four hours.

He said that over the course of their marriage, Julie had talked about suicide and suffered from depression.

“She had mentioned suicide but not that she was planning on acting on it,” he said of her behavior in the months before their daughter, 16-year-old Calyx and son, 13-year-old Beau, were killed in the family’s home. “My hope that her energy was too low to.”

The couple divorced after the deaths.

The defense also called a psychiatrist who reviewed Schenecker’s medical records and interviewed her following her arrest.

Dr. Wade Myers said Schenecker “was a great mother, a loving mother, when she was well” but in his opinion, she was insane at the time of the shooting.

Prosecutors, during cross examination, stressed that Schenecker did not tell anyone about her idea to kill her children and herself because she didn’t want the plan to be “thwarted.”

“At the time she killed her children, Ms. Schenecker had a delusional belief this was in the best interest of their children,” said Myers.

Parker Schenecker told the jury about how he met Julie in the military in 1990. He was a young officer and she was a military interrogator in the Army. They met when she coached his volleyball team and he said he was attracted to her athleticism and her “ability to stand up and take notice of things, take responsibility of things.”

A couple years later, the two married in Arizona, where he was then stationed, and she left the military when she had about 10 years of tenure. Their marriage was marked with worldwide travel, both before and after Julie gave birth to their two children. They lived in Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia and, several times, in Germany, as Parker rose through the Army ranks.

Although he noticed that his wife “had some lower energy” and suffered from depression at the beginning of their marriage, Schenecker said she was a good mother to the children when they were born.

As the years went on, she visited doctors around the world and even entered into a nine-month clinical trial for her depression at the National Institute of Mental Health at one point. Parker Schenecker said he received updates about her condition during that treatment, but otherwise, she wouldn’t allow him access to her mental health records or her doctors.

Defense attorneys have said that besides bipolar disorder with psychotic features, the defendant suffered from depression.

The family moved to Tampa in 2007, and when Calyx was leaving middle school and going into high school, she started to have problems with her mother, Parker Schenecker testified.

In November of 2010, months before the killings, Julie Schenecker was in a car crash. Parker thought his wife had been drinking and told her she needed to be in rehab; Julie agreed. When she arrived home after Thanksgiving, Julie Schenecker took to her bed for weeks and Parker’s mother came to help care for the kids.

Parker Schenecker said he communicated with his wife at that point mostly through email due to his schedule as a colonel at U.S. Central Command, which is located in Tampa. He told her that the kids were afraid to have her drive them in the car following the accident — and that he agreed she shouldn’t drive them

“‘I MUST protect them, they are telling me they feel unsafe,’” he wrote.

In mid-December, when Parker Schenecker’s mother went home, Julie began driving the kids to and from school and cooking dinner.

If convicted, Julie Schenecker would receive a life sentence. If acquitted by reason of insanity, she would be committed to a hospital until she is no longer a danger to herself or others.

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