Day 7: Rebuttal witnesses say Tampa mom was sane, planned to kil - WHLT 22 Connecting the Pine Belt

Day 7: Rebuttal witnesses say Tampa mom was sane, planned to kill kids

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

"A large majority of people who are mentally ill at the time of the offense are sane," a forensic psychiatrist on the stand for the state said Wednesday morning. Statements made by Dr. Randy Otto, a USF mental health expert, contradicted much of the defense’s testimony heard this week.

The state's rebuttal included not one, not two, but three doctors who testified Wednesday, telling the jury Julie Schenecker had a clear, calculated plan to kill her two teenage children - Calyx and Beau - in January 2011. Schenecker has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Closing arguments will be held Thursday morning at 9:45 a.m. followed by jury instructions and deliberations.

On Wednesday, Doctor Donald Taylor explained the legal definition of insanity: "The individual suffers from mental disease which prevents them from knowing what they are doing or the consequences of what they are doing. Or if they do know what they're doing, they don’t know it's wrong."

Otto, Taylor, and a third witness Dr. Barbara Stein, all testified Schenecker knew exactly what she was doing, therefore was legally sane at the time of the crime.

"Rarely does anyone meet the insanity defense criteria in Florida," Dr. Otto said. Otto opened the state's rebuttal testimony after the defense rest their case on Tuesday.

"She did suffer from mental disease, bipolar. She was experiencing a major depressive episode at time of crime. The defendant knew what she was doing and she knew the consequences of what she was doing," Dr. Taylor stated. He said he came to that conclusion specifically from journal entries.

"In this case there was opportunity to review collateral information on thoughts and feelings about what she was doing at the time, specifically journal entries," Taylor explained. "Entries were consistent with statements made to police, jail medical staff, and during interview with TGH doctors. Statements made were consistent with each other and with the physical evidence. Journal statements made it clear she intended to kill the children."

Dr. Otto testified Schenecker was not experiencing any delusions at or around the time of the murders, opposing defense testimony, and fully knew the wrongfulness or her actions. "I see support that she did know what she was doing," Otto told the jury. "I would recommend an adjunction of sanity in this case."

He also said the Tampa mother reported clear memory of killing her children - to doctors and police - and wrote with intent in her journal.

Testimony revealed once she killed the children, Schenecker tried to manipulate Calyx's mouth into a smile, covered both the teens with blankets and kissed them.

Doctors testified Schenecker's fear that her daughter was developing bipolar disorder was not a delusion, but in fact a reality, because children of parents with the disorder are more likely to develop it themselves. Taylor pointed out that Schenecker didn’t mention specific delusions regarding her children in journal entries or to law enforcement after the crimes.

Dr. Stein, the third psychiatrist to testify in the state's rebuttal, said there are several examples of why Schenecker had clear knowledge of her wrongfulness. She wrote an apology letter to her ex-husband Parker after the killings, showing remorse. She also testified Schenecker told Beau it was a toy gun she pulled out, showing she knew the lethalness of her action.

"There's no evidence she was out of touch with reality," Stein stated. Stein said there's evidence to the contrary. Schenecker had many non-psychotic motives including her deteriorating relationship with her family and anger toward her husband for mistreating her.

Doctors also said Schenecker didn't tell anyone about her plan to murder her children because she would be stopped; not because she didn't intend to, as testified by defense witness Dr. Wade Myers, who testified the thought of killing her children didn't dawn on her until after she purchased the firearm. Read his testimony here.

The psychiatrist said Schenecker had delusional beliefs that killing her children was in their best interest.

Otto retracted his opinion during cross examination saying it's possible Schenecker believed she was doing the right thing and was compelled by her mental illness the day she killed her children.

"I’m not aware of any credible authority that says essentially every person who kills their child is insane," Otto stated Wednesday. A defense doctor on the stand said a differing opinion earlier this week.

"Sane people don't shoot and kill their own children," Psychologist Eldra Solomon said Monday. "I think without a doubt she was insane at the time of the shooting," Solomon told the jury. Read her testimony here.

On cross examination Wednesday morning, the defense pointed out the fact that Otto didn't meet with Schenecker until two years after the murders and that may not be an accurate assessment of her thoughts. 

Otto agreed that Schenecker was described as a good mother. "Her parenting abilities were compromised by her mental illness," he said.

Watch live coverage of the trial here.

Calyx and Beau were found dead at the family's New Tampa home on January 28, 2011.

Julie Schenecker, 53, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder by reason of insanity.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.


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