Crimes of Passion

The Courtney Schulhoff Case Is A Modern Romeo + Juliet Tragedy, Kind Of

Courtney Christine Schulhoff and her boyfriend killed her father in a gruesome twist on a Shakespearean tragedy.

How far would you go for love? Courtney Christine Schulhoff was a 15-year-old girl living in Florida, with her father, Steve Schulhoff, after her parents divorced the previous year. In 2003, she met Michael Morin who quickly became her boyfriend, despite being five years older than her, and having a criminal record for auto theft.

Obviously, Courtney’s dad wasn’t exactly thrilled about the age difference, and Steve and Courtney started having a lot of problems because of her relationship with Michael. He was getting calls from the school regularly, telling him that his daughter was skipping classes. Courtney was also using Steve’s credit cards to shop online, maxing them out and putting Steve in a difficult financial situation that he couldn’t afford.

Eventually, Steve was so mired in debt from Courtney’s spending, he and Courtney had to move house into a small apartment in Altamonte Springs. That was also when Steve ordered her to stop seeing Michael, and things really escalated. Courtney and Michael ran away to Maryland in a stolen car, but soon returned to Florida, where Michael was arrested for stealing the car while on probation.

Not long after, Steve was found beaten to death in his apartment. This story is the subject of Oxygen’s weekly Martinis & Murder podcast, hosted by John Thrasher and Daryn Carp. Subscribe at iTunes or Google Play or listen on Soundcloud.

Steve wasn’t the only one trying to keep Courtney and Michael apart. Michael’s father even made an attempt when Michael “borrowed” his car on New Year’s Eve 2004. He rang the police and reported his car stolen in an attempt to get Michael away from Courtney. Michael was arrested again, and spent a month in prison. When he got out, a prosecutor told Snapped on Oxygen that he "had been kicked out of the house" and "didn't have anyplace to go." So Courtney began sneaking Michael into her room at night. It didn’t take Steve long to cotton on, especially when Michael’s parole officer rang the apartment. Apparently Michael had put down Steve’s address as his place of residence when he was released. Steve flipped and called the police, trying to get Michael arrested.

The next day, Steve found out that Courtney had once against stolen his credit card and gone on a shopping spree. He told his girlfriend, Elaine Bouck, that he was going to confront Courtney the following day. By this point, Courtney had also dropped out of school, and her situation seemed to be spiralling out of control, but she was determined to keep seeing Michael against the odds.

The next morning, Elaine started to worry. She hadn’t heard from Steve as usual. After not being able to reach him by phone, on Feb. 10, 2004, at around 3pm, she went to his apartment. As she approached, she saw Michael walking Steve’s dog, wearing Steve’s shirt. She was immediately alarmed, as Steve would never let Michael do either of those things. Elaine rushed to the apartment, where Courtney was waiting outside. Courtney told Elaine she didn’t know where Steve was either. She had locked the apartment door so Elaine couldn’t get inside, and quickly dashed off with the key.

Elaine immediately called the police. The police arrived and were able to get inside through the back of the apartment. Inside, they found Steve dead in his bedroom, with blood splattered all over the walls. Steve’s body was stuffed into a Rubbermaid, and a bloody aluminium baseball bat was also found at the foot of the bed. Steve had been bludgeoned in the head. One of his ears was torn off with the force, and his face was smashed in. In the dining room, they found Steve’s bank statements, on which Steve had circled and highlighted a number of transactions.

Police immediately began searching for Courtney and Michael. They apprehended Michael at the Altamonte Mall, which was across the road from the apartment, hiding in a bathroom stall. In his possession were Steve’s wallet and car keys, and he was indeed wearing Steve’s shirt as identified by Elaine. Michael’s shirt was found in Steve’s apartment, spotted with blood. Meanwhile, Courtney had hitchhiked to her mother’s apartment. Her mom drove her to the Altamonte Springs police station, where Courtney turned herself in.

Initially, Courtney made a statement putting all the blame for the murder on Michael. Michael denied being at the apartment at the time the murder was committed. But when Michael found out Steve was dead his story changed. He completely broke down and made a full confession, but Courtney was deeply implicated. Michael said Courtney had wanted her father dead, and had accused him of abusing her physically, and Courtney even told police her father had raped her. When Steve confronted Courtney about her recent spending on his card, Courtney went to Michael and tried to convince him to kill Steve. Michael said he didn’t want to, but Courtney convinced him to.

After several hours of waiting in the interrogation room, Courtney asked to speak to police again. She admitted that she had, indeed, helped Michael to kill her father, providing him with the baseball bat, even taking Steve’s dog outside so it wouldn’t bark and give them away, but that the whole thing was still Michael’s idea. She said, “I begged him not to, oh my God." Their stories now matched up perfectly, except for the matter of whose idea it was to do the murder.

Regardless of whose idea it was, the pair were both charged with murder. Despite being underage at the time, a grand jury indictment meant that Courtney would be charged with first-degree premeditated murder. But because she was underage, she would not be eligible for the death penalty as Michael would. The highest sentence she could receive would be life without parole.

Two and a half years later, on September 26, 2006, Courtney’s trial began. The prosecution's case focused on Courtney wanting to get her dad out of the way so that she could be with Michael, and lawyers argued the lovers had planned the murder for hours before doing it, laying in wait until Steve fell asleep, a version of events that pretty well matched up with Michael’s confession. The prosecution also claimed that Steve had never actually abused Courtney at all, based on an investigation by the Department of Children and Families that found no abuse in the household. They argued that Courtney made up the stories so that Michael would kill her father for her.

The prosecution's entire case rested on the idea that even though Michael had physically beaten Steve to death, it was only because Courtney forced him to do it. The jury found her guilty of first-degree premeditated murder regardless. Under Florida’s mandatory sentencing roles, she immediately received life without parole.

But there was an unexpected twist in the case. Before her sentence was handed down, Courtney addressed the court. She said “I would like to openly admit in court that Michael Morin is not the person who killed my father. I was.”

Michael’s trial began on April 16, 2007. The police had Michael’s full confession on tape, despite Courtney’s last minute revelation. They also had Michael’s shirt which police found in Steve’s room (and confirmed the blood on it to be Steve’s), as well as Steve’s blood on the shorts Michael was wearing when he was arrested. The prosecution was also able to point to the force needed to create the blood spatter in Steve’s room, and inflict such damage to his body, but they weren’t able to find any DNA or fingerprint evidence on the bat to prove definitively that Michael had held it.

Whatever Courtney’s intention was, the jury still found Michael guilty of first degree murder. But possibly because of her testimony, the court decided to give him life without parole, rather than the death sentence.

As for Courtney, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that convicted killers currently serving life behind bars for crimes committed while underage can challenge their incarceration. 

Justice Kennedy wrote that prisoners must be given the opportunity to show their crime did not reflect irreparable corruption; and, if it did not, their hope for some years of life outside prison walls must be restored.

And just a couple of weeks ago, according to the Orlando Sentinel, Courtney was given a reduced sentence of 40 years. Courtney is now 29 years old and is serving her time at the Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala, Florida. She’ll be 60 when she gets out.

 

Hosts Daryn Carp and John Thrasher chat about creepy crimes and mysterious murders... while mixing up martinis! Each episode will focus on a new crime, the crazy details and the theories about how -- and why -- it all went down. 

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