Prosecutors in Hillsborough County officially notified the court and Julie Schenecker’s public defender this week that they will seek the death penalty in Schenecker’s murder trial. Schenecker is accused of killing her two teenage children last January.
The filing is not a surprise but the court document does not elaborate on the State’s reasons behind the decision to seek capital punishment. Schenecker is represented by a defense attorney from the Public Defender’s Office who is certified by the state for death penalty cases.
A Florida statute lists 15 “aggravators” that prosecutors can present in support of the death penalty. Juries weigh those against “mitigators” presented by the defense.
Among the possible aggravators the State may pursue in its case against Schenecker are premeditation, simultaneous homicides, child victims and the fact that Schenecker was their caretaker. There is no requirement that the jury must find a specific number of aggravators – they must only find one and then determine that there are no mitigating factors which outweigh it when considering appropriate punishment.
Schenecker’s defense attorneys will have the opportunity to argue several mitigating factors. Schenecker was allegedly being treated for depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse at the time of the homicides.
Depending on the specific medical and psychological information available, Schenecker’s defense attorneys may even use an insanity defense. They reportedly have until early next week to make their insanity defense intentions known to the court and to the State.
Schenecker’s husband, an Army colonel, was deployed to the Middle East when the children were shot and killed at the family’s home. A 16-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son died. The couple is now divorced.