MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Was she a loving mother who just snapped and wanted her children to be in heaven with her, or was she a premeditated murderer out to kill her children to make her ex-husband suffer?
Jurors deliberating in the mercy trial of Julie Orellana in Martinsburg are hearing testimony from both sides of that argument.
Orellana pleaded guilty last month to one count of murder and one count of attempted murder in the September 20, 2018 incident in which her 8 year old daughter Eliza was killed and her 11-year-old daughter Olivia was injured in a Tall Pine Lane home.
Orellana took the stand Wednesday morning. Under oath, she testified about her struggles with mental illness and severe depression and recounted three separate suicide attempts, the first dating back to when she was 17 and her boyfriend broke up with her.
In one attempt, her two children discovered her in their home after school.
Orellana said she started a downward spiral after her husband Ed told her he was divorcing her and would be staying in the family home. She went through periods of homelessness and a suicide attempt between then and the time of the murder.
In early September, her husband had said he was limiting her visitation. The defense showed jurors a variety of emails between the two, showing how distraught Julie Orellana was at the prospect of not being able to see her children.
Prosecutors say she bought a gun the day before the incident.
Orellana contends she meant to kill herself, but then not wanting to subject her children to the life-altering impact of having a parent commit suicide, decided to as she said, “take them with” her.
She admitted to writing the notes on the day of the attack, when she was supposed to pick the girls up from school and drive them to gymnastics and swimming practice. Instead, she took them to the Tall Pine Lane home and told them to look for kittens in an upstairs bedroom.
She said her intent was to shoot them and then shoot herself.
Orellana did not dispute most of the retelling of what happened next: She shot Eliza twice. She shot Olivia in the leg. Olivia ran past her and locked herself in a bedroom then jumped out of a second story window and ran for help.
Eliza tried to make her way downstairs and into the living room but collapsed.
Prosecutors say Julie Orellana then grabbed a ‘generic, dull’ steak knife from the kitchen and stabbed the 8-year-old 35 times.
“She was laying there in pain. I didn’t want her to be in pain anymore,” Julie Orellana said.
She said she left the home to try to evade police and go somewhere that no one would stop her from killing herself.
Prosecutors, though contend she drove through the neighborhood looking for her other daughter to finish the job.
They also dispute her story regarding her reasoning, saying evidence will show that one of the notes she handed police after her September 21st arrest proves that the attack was to get back at her ex-husband; “This is all your fault. The hell you have put me through the past two years is inexcusable. It’s your turn to suffer.”
The defense wrapped up its questioning of Orellana Wednesday afternoon, but plans to call an expert witness to explain their theory of “altruistic filicide — performed “out of love” to assuage the authentic or imagined suffering of the child.
The trial continues.
Story by Marsha Chwalik