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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: March 17, 2001
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: April 24, 1969
Victims profile: Her four-year-old twin sons James and John Demeniuk
Method of murder: Shooting (.357 Magnum revolver)
Location: Ponte Vedra Beach, St. Johns County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to two consecutive life sentences on January 26, 2006
photo gallery

Judge Gives Mother Life Sentence For Each Of Slain Sons

January 27, 2006

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - A mother who murdered her twin 4-year-old sons in 2001 will spend the first night of her two life sentences behind bars Friday.

Leslie Demeniuk sat emotionless as her fate was announced. She already knew it would be life in prison -- the mandatory sentence.

Her attorney argued Demeniuk shot and killed her boys because prescription drugs caused her to be temporarily insane, but the jury did not buy the story.

The boys' father, Tommy Demeniuk, presented one of two victim impact statements at Friday's hearing.

Tommy Demeniuk clutched a photograph of himself with his sons during happier times as he told the judge all about the boys, their favorite books and games. He made no mention of Leslie Demeniuk.

Nobody took the stand in defense of Leslie Demeniuk, although her stepfather, Eric Shoenig, told reporters after the hearing that she was a victim, too.

"The gun that really killed our grandsons was not the gun that Leslie Demeniuk fired, but the gun that the pharmaceutical companies put in her hand," Shoenig said.

Before the sentencing, Leslie Demeniuk's lawyer asked the judge to set aside the verdict. That was denied and Leslie Demeniuk was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, one for each of the little boys.


Former Boyfriend Of Mom Who Killed Twins Still Supports Her

January 18, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The former boyfriend of the woman convicted Tuesday of shooting and killing her twin 4-year-old boys was afraid that she would hurt somebody.

Anthony Ortiz just thought Leslie Demeniuk was going to hurt herself, not her children.

"I knew something was going to happen, I just never dreamed it was going to be this," Ortiz said Wednesday. "I feared for her own life. I never thought this would happen."

Instead, Demeniuk killed her sons as they watched television in a Sawgrass home on March 17, 2001.

Ortiz was the one that found the boys' bodies and called 911.

Despite all that has happened, Ortiz said he still loves Demeniuk.

"I'll always stand by her side," Ortiz told Channel 4's Dan Leveton the day after she was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. "I'll always be there when they go to court. I'll always try and help her. I believe in her 100 percent."

Like her attorneys, Ortiz places the blame for the murders on the side effects of anti-depressants she was taking.

"She was a free spirit, and the thought of her taking this drug...," Ortiz said. "I knew that there was something wrong; it was not the medication she should have been prescribed."

Ortiz says Demeniuk even went to the doctor with her concerns and her medication was changed from Zoloft to Paxil. Two days later, Ortiz walked in to find her two boys shot to death.

Defense claims that a drug interaction contributed to a mental state where she was not responsible for her actions were not allowed at trial. Motions on that issue and others were the main reason the case took more than five years to go to trial.

Last week, nearly five years after that incident, Ortiz testified at Demeniuk's trial.

"It was very hard to see her, because I believe in her 100 percent," he said through tears. "It brought back a lot of memories and pain."

Ortiz copes with that pain by doing extensive research on the effects of antidepressants. He also passes out flyers, he says, to educate the public about the potential dangers.

With Demeniuk facing life in prison, he wants her not to give up.

"There's still people who believe in her," Ortiz said. "A lot of people who are still going to fight for her."


Jury: Mother Guilty Of Killing 4-Year-Old Twins

January 17, 2006

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Nearly five years after her twin boys were shot to death, it took a jury three hours to find Leslie Demeniuk guilty of two counts of first-degree murders.

After six days of expert testimony, the six-member jury rejected defense arguments that Demeniuk was insane, finding her guilty of killing her 4-year-old sons in her father's Sawgrass home in March 17, 2001.

Demeniuk, 36, showed no reaction when the verdict was read, but the boy's father, Tommy Demeniuk, was to emotional to comment.

Demeniuk's lawyers also left the courtroom without commenting, but her stepfather was angered by the verdict.

"Our hands were tied in a big wad," said Eric Schoenig, Demeniuk's stepfather. said. "We could never talk about the SRIs (the anti-depressants Demeniuk was taking), how they might have affected our daughter. It's a shame; it really is a miscarriage of justice."

Even if Demeniuk's attorneys were able to introduce more evidence about pharmaceutical drugs and their effect on her mental state, some experts said it still may not have been enough to win an acquittal.

"It's hard to sell. Never the less, you do what you can do. There were some very good lawyers involved in this case and you wait for a verdict and you never know what's coming," said Criminal Defense Attorney Tom Cushman.

Demeniuk's attorneys did not dispute that she killed the boys. Instead, they claimed she was not guilty by reason of insanity, but were barred from introducing evidence that an interaction of prescription drugs may have resulted in her violent behavior.

Prosecutors said despite drug and alcohol use, Demeniuk knew what she was doing and should spend the rest of her life in prison.

During its closing arguments Monday, the prosecution retraced what occurred when Demeniuk shot and killed her children.

Prosecutor Noah McKinnon told the jury it was a brutal case of first-degree murder.

"It took time and the intent to kill was in her mind when she looked him in the face, put the gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger," McKinnon said.

The defense argued that alcohol mixed with antidepressants led to the shocking incident and that Demeniuk was delusional when she shot the boys.

However, McKinnon strongly disagreed. "All of the telephone calls, that day, were not psychotic. All of her actions, that day, were not psychotic," McKinnon said.

In his closing arguments defense attorney Bill Sheppard passionately disagreed with the prosecution, claiming that prescription drugs and alcohol mixed to cause Demeniuk to become temporarily insane.

"Why it happened was because Leslie Demeniuk did not know the difference between right and wrong at the precise moment that she pulled the trigger," Sheppard said. "The only explanation for these hideous actions is that she thought she was saving her children. She was taking them to a better place. It was because of a total delusion."

The jury began deliberations about 4:30 p.m. Monday They resumed deliberations just after 9 a.m. Tuesday, returning to the courtroom just over one hour later with the verdict: guilty as charged.

Channel 4's Dan Levington was able to speak with one of the jurors who told him they were absolutely exhausted from two weeks of testimony and jury selection. The juror said they actually asked to be recessed Monday night because they were overwhelmed and wanted to come back Tuesday morning to look more thoroughly at the evidence.

The juror also said one of the key points in determining the verdict was the blood alcohol level in Demeniuk's system on they day of the murders -- more than four times the legal limit.

There was no word Tuesday night whether or not Demeniuk would seek an appeal.

The judge said he would sentence her within 30 days. Demeniuk could face live in prison without parole.


Defense Rests; Prosecutors Call Rebuttal Witness In Demeniuk Murder Trial

January 13, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The defense in the Leslie Demeniuk murder trial rested Friday morning after the second psychologist it put on the stand testified for a second day.

Psychologist Dr. Ernest Miller again told the jury that Demeniuk was delusional when she gunned down her twin sons in 2001.

The prosecution called psychologist Dr. Barbara Kirwin as its first rebuttal witness.

Kirwin examined Demeniuk over three days in 2003, and told the jury it was her opinion that Demeniuk was not insane and knew exactly what she was doing when she killed her sons.

"My opinion is that at the time of the offense, Leslie Demeniuk did not suffer from a mental disease or defect and that she was sane in the sense that she knew what she was doing. She understood the wrong things that she did." Kirwin said.

Kirwin said that during her interview of the defendant, Demeniuk talked about a long history of substance abuse.

"She had stated to me that she had used alcohol and other substances including marijuana, LSD and cocaine," Kirwin said.

Kirwin also testified about the manner in which Demeniuk ended her marriage with her husband, specifically about the way she informed her husband of her decision.

"She notified him about her decision to terminate the marriage when he was away on a ship, on a ship-to-shore telephone call, which struck me as a pretty -- kind of, a cruel way to terminate a marriage," Kirwin said.

Following the prosecution, the defense's cross-examination of Kirwin became very heated, especially when the subject of the murder weapon came up.

Defense attorney Bill Sheppard pointed to Kirwin's report detailing her interviews with Demeniuk and demanded Kirwin read the section about the gun.

The reason behind the argument over the gun was because Sheppard said the gun was not mentioned in the doctor's notes given to him. Kirwin said that it was mentioned, however, between her and Demeniuk.

Kirwin also said, in summary, that Demeniuk's actions leading up to the day of the crime showed that she was just a very selfish person.


Medical Expert Says Mother Who Killed Her Sons Had Psychotic Episode

January 12, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla - The second day of defense testimony in the Leslie Demeniuk murder trial began Thursday with the prosecution's cross-examination of a psychologist who specializes in treating depression.

Dr. David Menkes testified Wednesday about the dangerous side effects associated with combining different medications.

Demeniuk's defense attorneys claim the combination of the two antidepressants she was taking, along with a sedative and alcohol, rendered Demeniuk temporarily insane when she shot her twin sons to death in 2001.

"I believe she was certainly insane and at the period when she decided to shoot the children, retrieve the weapon, load it, come back in and do the deed," Menkes said.

However, the prosecution argues that Demeniuk knew exactly what she was doing, and on Thursday they ardently cross-examined Menkes.

"How can you say, before this jury, that she didn?t know what she was doing when she dialed him up immediately after shooting the last child and told exactly what she had done and the consequences -- that they were dead? How can you say that sir?" said prosecutors.

"Yes, I do believe she knew what she was doing, she knew the consequences, but she did not know that it was wrong," Menkes said.

Several other witnesses followed Menkes' testimony, including forensic expert Dr. Ernest Miller, who told the court that he did everything in his power to find out why Demeniuk killed her sons, but that it was not easy to find an answer.

"The fact that she had four years of bonding, extensive bonding, and ended up using a .357 Magnum to end a relationship -- it's unbelievable and hard for me to accept," Miller said.

Miller said he believes Demeniuk was psychotic during the murders. He said she was suicidal and could not separate herself and her misery from her children.

"She believed that at the point of the crime, that the world was so terrible and so horrible that she did not think she could live and she was so bonded pathologically and strongly with her children that she included them in the act," Miller said.

Miller also mentioned the adverse side effects of combining medications and said he believed Demeniuk had a psychotic episode the day of the crime.


Prosecution Rests, Defense Presents First Witnesses In Demeniuk Murder Trial

January 11, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After calling two final witnesses Wednesday afternoon, the prosecution rested its case against Leslie Demeniuk.

Prosecutors say Demeniuk killer her 4-year-old twin sons in cold blood in 2001.

Over the past week prosecutors have called numerous witnesses to the stand including Demeniuk's ex-husband, her boyfriend who found the boys dead in Demeniuk's father's Ponte Vedra Beach home, and a homicide detective who was one of the first people to arrive at the crime scene.

Before the state rested its case it put two more key witnesses on the stand. One, an expert who examined the scene following the murders and the other a medical examiner who described exactly what happened to the two children.

After the prosecution rested it case Demeniuk's defense lawyers began the daunting task of convincing the jury she did not know what she was doing when she shot her sons to death.

The first witness the defense called was psychologist Dr. David Menkes, who examined Demeniuk in 2002, more than a year after the crime was committed.

Menkes practices medicine in Britain and specializes in treating depression.

"Given the particularly horrific details of what happened on March 17, 2001, I was very motivated to try to understand the best I could, what happened and how it happened," said Menkes.

Demeniuk's attorneys argued that the combination of two anti-depressants Zoloft and Paxil, along with the sedative Zantac and alcohol, contributed to her actions at her in 2001.

Menkes confirmed that the side effects from the combination of drugs could be severe.

"What worries me is that it is often done without a great deal of planning or monitoring. Of course the possibility of a side effect of two drugs is much greater than with one drug at a time," Menkes said.

The defense says the combination left Demeniuk temporarily insane.

Demeniuk's defense is expected to last at least one more day. The prosecution will be able to call rebuttal witnesses before closing arguments.


Jury In Demeniuk Murder Trial Hears Grim Crime Scene Evidence

January 10, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The jury in the Leslie Demeniuk murder trial heard more about the grim crime scene evidence on Tuesday.

One of the witnesses called by prosecutors was lead detective Sgt. Jay Lawing, who one of the first investigators called after victims James and John Demeniuk were shot to death inside their grandfather's Ponte Vedra Beach home.

The victims' mother, Leslie Demeniuk, has admitted to killing the boys, but claims she was insane at the time of the of the March 2001 incident.

As Lawing described the clothing the boys were wearing, Leslie Demeniuk cried, as did the boys' father Tommy Demeniuk, who testified earlier in the week about the last time he saw his sons alive.

Lawing also read a statement signed by Leslie Demeniuk that read: "When I got back in the room, I shot both boys in the head. I think I shot Jamie first. I think I shot one of them twice. I don't know what was going through my head. I heard one of the boys still breathing."

Earlier in the day, some of the first people to come in contact with Leslie Demeniuk the day of the shooting testified, including a deputy with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Department and a paramedic.

The deputy testified that Leslie Demeniuk was coherent, as did one of the emergency workers at the crime scene.

"The police officer asked if she knew why she was there, and she stated that she shot her baby. She told police that the gun was in the house, that it was her father's gun, she got it out of the closet and then shot her children," said Emergency Room Physician Dr. Karen Flek.


Boyfriend Of Woman On Trial In Sons' Murder Says Drugs Changed Her Behavior

January 9, 2006

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The boyfriend of a woman accused of killing her twin sons testified Monday that her behavior changed when she started taking anti-depressants, then got worse when her prescription was changed just two days before the boys were killed.

Outside of the courtroom, Anthony Ortiz handed out flyers that read: "Exposing the Truth. Is Your Medication Loaded?" Inside the courtroom, he testified about Leslie Demeniuk's behavior after she began taking a medication called Zoloft.

Ortiz told the jury that Demeniuk was disoriented, forgetful, and easily lost attention in the days and weeks before her two 4-year-olds were shot to death in March 2001.

"She didn't sound right. Something was getting worse. It sounded worse," Ortiz said.

Ortiz told the jury that she slapped him for no reason a week before the boys were shot, and she punched him the night before he found the boys dead. He said he had asked her to give him back his Zoloft, because he thought she was taking too many.

Ortiz said he still loves Demeniuk.

Also on Monday, prosecutors played the tape of the 911 call Ortiz made when he discovered the boys dead in the Sawgrass Country Club of Demeniuk's father.

Demeniuk wiped away tears as the tape played in the courtroom, describing the scene inside her father's home back in March 2001.

The state said in its opening statement that Demeniuk had a history of drug use, and on the day of the murders she had mixed anti-depressants with alcohol. According to court documents, her blood alcohol was measured just after her arrest at three times the legal limit.

Prosecutors also say Demeniuk killed the boys to hurt their father. The couple's divorce was about to be finalized.

Demeniuk's defense lawyers contend that was insane when she shot and killed her sons -- something no sane mother would ever do. They also say there is evidence in the 911 tape that Demeniuk's medication played a role in what happened to her little boys.

They wanted to present scientific evidence about the interaction of anti-depressants and alcohol, but Judge John Alexander ruled there is not enough documented science to bolster that legal claim -- a decision that was upheld on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

Testimony is expected to resume on Tuesday at about 9 a.m. Physiatrists are still expected to testify and talk about what Demeniuk's state of mind was on the day of the shootings.


Father Of Slain Twins First To Testify In Murder Trial For Ex-Wife

January 6, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A grieving father took the stand and testified Friday about the last time he saw his twin sons alive; his ex-wife accused of murdering them.

Tommy Demeniuk was the first witness on the stand in the murder trial of his ex-wife Leslie Demeniuk.

According to police, Leslie Demeniuk shot her 4-year-old boys nearly five years ago.

During opening statements both sides painted two very different pictures. Prosecutors explained to the jury how Leslie Demeniuk got her gun, loaded it, and gunned down her sons as they watched TV. Defense attorneys described her as a troubled and depressed woman that was taking medications, which they said made her temporarily insane.

While on the stand, Tommy Demeniuk told the jury he tried to make their marriage work for the boys' sake, but after their birth, it was clear she cared more for her own desires than his or theirs. He said she drank too much, and after they separated, worried about his boys when they were with her.

"I didn't believe the lifestyle that she was leading was going to provide them with all their needs," said Tommy Demeniuk.

He told the jury she once said if the boys wanted to do drugs when they grew up, she would prefer they do drugs with her.

Under cross-examination, Tommy Demeniuk acknowledged Leslie was a good mother once, before her behavior changed.

Leslie Demeniuk's defense lawyers contended that when she shot and killed her sons, she was not in her right mind, and did what no sane mother would ever do.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday morning. The man who was dating Leslie Demeniuk at the time she killed her sons is expected to testify. He was the one that called 911 after walking in and seeing the two boys shot.



Prosecutor: Mother shot her 4-year-old twin boys to death

Jan. 6, 2006

By Bo Rosser - Court TV

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. Leslie Demeniuk fired a revolver through her 4-year-old son's skull, then chased his fleeing twin brother and shot at him twice before fatally hitting him in the ear, according to prosecutors in Demeniuk's first-degree murder trial.

"She put the gun to his forehead and pulled the trigger," Assistant State Attorney Noah McKinnon said during his opening statement Friday. "There's an explosion, blood everywhere, she even found skull fragments on her body."

Demeniuk, 36, admits using a .357 Magnum given to her by her father to shoot her twin sons, James Richard and John Thomas, on March 17, 2001, but claims she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

If convicted, Demeniuk faces life in prison without parole. Prosecutors changed tack before the trial began and decided not to seek the death penalty.

The defense claims the drugs Demeniuk was taking to alleviate her anxiety and depression backfired and instead exacerbated her condition. The combination of prescription drugs Paxil and Xanax mixed with bourbon and beer created a mind-altering cocktail that put the mother of two in such a state she did not understand her actions when she shot her sons.

"When she was taking these medicines and experiencing these side effects, the evidence will show, Leslie did not decide to kill her children in the ordinary sense that you and I would decide to go buy a car or pick up groceries," defense attorney William Sheppard said in his opening statement. "An action ... that a mind decides to do is not necessarily an action of a sane mind."

Demeniuk switched from the antidepressant Zoloft two days before the shootings at her doctor's urging, according to the defense.

As the state's first witness, the victims' father, Thomas Demeniuk, testified that his ex-wife drank heavily and that he feared she was not providing adequate care for their sons. The couple was granted a divorce four days before the shootings.

"I sought custody because I loved Johnny and James," the father said. "The lifestyle she was leading would not provide them their needs."

The former U.S. Navy officer said he did not contest a recommendation for maternal custody because he was away frequently for the Navy and knew he would never win.

"I had 'military' taped across my head," he said. "The custody evaluator believed that she was the primary caregiver because she was with them all the time."

Demeniuk told the jury he married the defendant after a two-to-three-month affair that he described as "very physical" but later testified he did not think she ever loved him. When Leslie Demeniuk informed him she was pregnant, he said, he decided to marry her.

"You own up to your responsibilities," Demeniuk said. "And I believed in having them."

Thomas Demeniuk described his wife as a controlling woman who never treated him with respect, but later testified that he loved her very much while they were married.

Prosecutors are expected to continue their case Monday in the two-week trial at the St. Johns County Circuit Court.



Trial Begins Of Mother Accused Of Killing 4-Year-Old Twins

January 4, 2006

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - Jury selection began Monday in the the murder trial of a Ponte Vedra mother accused of killing her two sons almost five years ago.

Prosecutors say Leslie Demeniuk shot and killed her twin 4-year-old sons -- Jamie and Johnny -- at their father's home in Sawgrass Country Club in March 2001.

They say the killings were premeditated and cold-blooded.

Court documents mistakenly released in 2002 included Demeniuk's confession, in which she acknowledged she killed her sons to hurt her soon-to-be-ex-husband. Their divorce was about to be finalized.

"I shot both boys in the head. I think I shot Jamie twice. I think I shot one of them twice," Demeniuk is quoted as saying to detectives.

The state says they'll show Demeniuk has a history of drug use, and on the day of the murders she had mixed anti-depressants with alcohol. According to court documents, on the day of the shootings, her blood alcohol was measured at three times the legal limit.

Demeniuk's lawyers are expected to present an insanity defense, but they will not be allowed to claim that insanity was the result of the mixture of anti-depressants and alcohol. Judge John Alexander ruled there is not enough documented science to bolster that legal claim -- a decision that was upheld on appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

A jury pool of about 100 people is available to be interviewed for the trial, and court officials said it could take several days to empanel a six-member jury. After hearing several defense motions, court was recessed for the day about 3:30 p.m.

Jury selection is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.

Prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty is she was convicted, but changed their minds two weeks ago.


Case timeline

March 17, 2001: Leslie Demeniuk is arrested after authorities find her twin 4-year-old sons, James and John, shot to death in a Sawgrass condominium in Ponte Vedra Beach. She was passed out on a bed, with the gun in her hand, police said.

May 2001: Demeniuk pleads not guilty.

May 2001: Prosecutors announce they will seek the death penalty.

February 2003: Demeniuk changes her plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.

Feb. 25, 2004: The first day of a hearing about the insanity defense that ended a week later with Circuit Judge Robert Mathis saying he would allow psychiatrists' testimony as "pure opinion."

March 2004: The 5th District Court of Appeal grants a delay so prosecutors can argue against Mathis' ruling.

August 2004: Appellate court sides with the state; the hearing returns to St. Johns County. Circuit Judge John Alexander, who replaced Mathis, rules that the science behind the insanity defense is not generally accepted and can't be presented as fact. Mathis, who had moved to civil court after the death of his son, later retires.

Dec. 22, 2005: The state, led by a new prosecution team after the resignation of Assistant State Attorney Maureen Sullivan Christine, files a waiver saying it will not seek the death penalty.

Jan. 3, 2006: Jury selection scheduled.



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