TAMPA, Fla. — A Florida woman charged with murdering her teenage children had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder by several different doctors during her lifetime, and became more psychotic in the months leading up to the slayings, two psychiatrists testified in the woman’s trial Monday.
Dr. Michael Maher and Dr. Eldra Solomon each interviewed Julie Schenecker for a total of about 20 hours while she was in solitary confinement in the Hillsborough County Jail following her January 2011 arrest.
Both said they also reviewed thousands of pages of her medical records.
Schenecker is charged with two counts of first-degree murder. The state contends that Schenecker knew right from wrong when she bought a gun and shot her children, but is not asking for the death penalty.
Maher told the jury that Schenecker was prescribed up to 10 different anti-psychotic, anti-depression and mood-stabilizing medications for her bipolar and depression disorder.
Under cross-examination, Maher also said that Schenecker’s illness was difficult to treat, in part, due to a biological resistance to the medication and because she under-reported her symptoms. The former military mom also drank excessively at times and didn’t take her medication [—] which exacerbated her condition, Maher said.
“If she had perfectly followed the right regime of medication, it is likely she would have been better off,” Maher said. “However, it is not that simple. She tried, at times, to do the right thing. But she was misguided.”
Maher also testified that Schenecker had a gambling problem in the months leading up to the killings. He said that she spent about $1,000 a month at a local casino, eventually forcing the family to take out a $10,000 loan to pay monthly bills.
There was also an indication that she had told a mental health professional about her desire to kill herself and harm her children. In late 2010, Schenecker wrote on a treatment center intake form that she’d thought of leaving the car running with her teens inside, Maher said.
Solomon told the jury that Schenecker called herself a failure because she didn’t succeed at committing suicide after killing her children.
Both psychiatrists were called to the stand by the defense team, which is trying to prove the 53-year-old was insane in January 2011 when she shot her teenage children
Schenecker is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.
Solomon said Schenecker was molested by a neighbor when she was 7; had thought about suicide since she was 12; and tried to commit suicide twice.
“I think without a doubt she was insane at the time of the shooting and during the week prior to the shooting,” Solomon said.
Solomon said Schenecker intended to kill herself after shooting her kids. She had a three-part plan, Solomon said: sit in the car and breathe carbon monoxide, take pills and then shoot herself. After shooting her children, Schenecker reloaded her gun and then took the pills [—] but the pills knocked her out for the night.
“She said she was very angry at herself because she failed,” Solomon said. “She was very upset because she didn’t succeed at killing herself.”
Schenecker awoke the next morning in the family’s home, groggy and shaky. Officers arrived soon after; Schenecker’s family had called police and asked them to check on her because they were worried about her mental health.