Day 5: Tampa doctor says Schenecker is 'legally insane' - WFLA News Channel 8

Day 5: Tampa doctor says Schenecker is 'legally insane'

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - Julie Schenecker was "legally insane" when she killed her two children, a defense witness testified Monday.

Psychiatrist Doctor Scott Maher told the jury his conclusion is that Schenecker was not aware of the wrongfulness and the horror of the crime.

Julie Schenecker is on trial in Tampa for the murders of her two children, 16-year-old Calyx and 13-year-old Beau, in January 2011.

"She did not know it was wrong, she believed she was protecting her children, she thought she was bringing them to Heaven," Dr. Maher said. Schenecker was seen wiping away tears as she listened to this testimony.

Maher said her mental illness became worse toward the end of 2010. She was briefly admitted to a facility for alcohol abuse, but Maher said that didn't help with her psychiatric treatment.

"She was severely disabled, dysfunctional, she needed to be in a psychiatric hospital in my opinion," he stated. "She was becoming more psychotic... Her thought disorder, common sense, social support system, all of the important things that helped her cope with illness were deteriorating." 

Watch live coverage of the trial here.

According to Maher, Julie Schenecker's priority was to kill herself when she purchased a firearm several days before the killings happened.

"She expressed to me that she was thinking and planning to kill herself when she bought a firearm," he said. "It was more clear to her that she wanted to kill herself, and not so clear of killing the children."

Maher said she made consistent statements about suicide and inconsistent statements about her children, saying she loved them but had fears of her kids "changing and becoming mouthy."

He also testified Schenecker was overdosed on drugs when confessing to the murders during the police interview. She gave "inconsistent statements, spontaneous thoughts, some irrational," he said.

Yet the issue came back to the mental illness.

"She would not have killed her children but for mental illness," he testified. "It would not have happened if she wasn't mentally ill."

The state tried to debunk Maher's testimony by suggesting it was Schenecker's fault her disorders were not getting better because she wasn't taking her medications and was drinking alcohol. Also trying to prove that she was aware of her actions and her anger toward her husband Parker was motivation for the murders. The doctor said he could not rule that out.

Testimony started Monday morning with Psychologist Eldra Solomon on stand telling the jury about Schenecker's diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic features. A diagnosis that Dr. Maher also noted.

Solomon told the jury Schenecker experienced "very high highs and very low lows." Her psychosis included delusions that her son was in danger of being sexually abused - because she had been sexually molested as a child - and her daughter was going to get bipolar disorder like her.

The doctor said she came to her conclusions on Schenecker based on thousands of pages of prior medical records and spending 20 hours with her.

Solomon, also a witness for the defense, says Schenecker's severe mental illness has been documented for many years. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder "many times, by many doctors including at military hospitals in Europe."

Schenecker's bizarre thoughts in 2009 included wanting to get pregnant and put the baby up for adoption. She wanted to "take DNA from her psychiatrist and get pregnant with his child," Solomon said. She also had delusional thoughts such as not understanding why she would not be welcome at her children's funerals.

"If I colored my hair differently, and sat in the back, no one would recognize me," Schenecker told her doctor. Solomon said Schenecker was not convinced her children were dead after the shootings.

"I think without a doubt she was insane at the time of the shooting," Solomon told the jury.

"Sane people don't shoot and kill their own children. They may kill other people's children but not their own. We are genetically programmed to protect our children," she said.

Solomon explained that at the time of the crime, Julie Schenecker had a clear plan to kill her children and herself so they could all go to Heaven together and have a safer, nicer life.

"She was very angry at herself for not succeeding at killing herself," she said. "She had a whole list of reasons why they would be better in Heaven with her. She didn’t want to kill herself and leave her children with the legacy of having a mother who committed suicide," Solomon explained.

In the state's rebuttal, they tried to narrow in on the fact that Julie Schenecker's actions were out of anger, not insanity, and the inconsistencies of her testimony.

"She never thought if her actions were legal or illegal," Solomon pointed out. "She didn't know the wrongfulness of her act, that makes her insane."

The defense started their case on Friday. Schenecker's psychiatrist answered questions about her medications and use of alcohol. At one point, Schenecker yelled out at the doctor, causing an abrupt halt in the trial. Read more about Friday's testimony.

Julie Schenecker, 53, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Court will resume Tuesday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

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