The Success of an Insanity Defense

Julie Schenecker, a 53-year-old military wife from Tampa, is awaiting trial for the 2011 shooting deaths of her two teenage children. As a recent CBS news article reported, the jurors in that case will likely hear large volumes of disturbing evidence from both sides. Schenecker was a devoted wife to a colonel and an attentive mother often cheered her kids on from the sidelines during soccer games. She bought a gun one week prior to the killings, and complained in a letter about the three day waiting period that just served to delay the inevitable murders of her 13-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter in January of 2011.

Two Sides

Two versions of the defendant will be presented according to these facts: one being an privileged soccer mom who calculated the murders of her two children before carrying them out, and the other being a mentally ill woman who suffered for years and failed to realize what she was doing when she shot her two children. Her attorneys are arguing a defense of insanity in the trial that is expected to start any day. If convicted, she could face life in prison without the possibility of parole. Even if she is found not guilty because of mental insanity, she could be committed to a mental facility where she will remain until no longer a threat to herself or others.

The Difficulty with the Defense

While prosecutors could have sought the death penalty in this case, they declined to do so in light of the evidence that tended to show the defendant was mentally ill. However, there is an important distinction between mental illness and legal insanity. According to the law in Florida, the burden is on the defense to prove insanity if it is pled as a defense. In order to meet that burden, defense lawyers will have to prove that Schenecker was mentally ill to such a degree that she failed to realize killing her children was wrong.

The defense of insanity is often difficult to prove, and many believe this case is no exception. The specific difficulties associated with the defense being pled in this case include the fact that Schenecker bought the gun used in the shootings five days in advance, and picked it up after the three-day required waiting period. She used that gun to fatally shoot her children just days later.

However, there is promising evidence that exists for the defense to use as they attempt to prove their case. Court documents show Schenecker’s mental illness history spans decades. In the early part of the 1990s, she was diagnosed with – and medicated for -depression. She continued being medicated daily from 1997 to 2001, when she was hospitalized for depression for nine months. She has also been diagnosed with other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder, and severe depression. In addition, there is information that her daughter reported her to police months before the killings, saying her mother hit her. No charges were filed. It is also notable that the family was attending counseling almost one month prior to the murders.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Florida

Still, it remains true that there is a difference between mental illness and insanity, and the former does not necessarily prove the existence of the latter. While mental illness is a term with significance to the medical community, the defense of insanity is a legal concept with different requirements in order for it to be successfully proven.

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Florida, the experienced defense attorneys at Hoffman, Larin & Agnetti, P.A. can discuss your case with you and advise you of your rights. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. We represent clients in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties