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In interview, mother details delusions that spurred her to kill sons

John Springer
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TYLER, Texas (Court TV) -- Dressed in white pajamas, Deanna Laney slipped out of bed without disturbing her husband of 18 years and headed down the hall to kill her children.

It was 11:30 p.m. on the Friday before Mother's Day last year, and God was speaking to the 39-year-old, devoutly religious housewife again.

The Lord told Laney the end was near, He was coming and she needed to kill her sons to prove her complete and unconditional faith in Him, Laney told a forensic psychiatrist in December.

"That feeling hit me. It's time. It's time," Laney says in a videotape of the interview played for jurors Wednesday at her capital murder trial.

On the tape, Laney sobs quietly as she describes psychotic episodes, including delusions and hallucinations, she had for fours years. She describes using heavy rocks to end the lives of her sons Joshua, 8, and Luke, 6, and to severely injure 14-month-old Aaron.

"I thought I was being told by the Lord to do this. I believe that with all my heart," Laney told psychiatrist Park Dietz.

Prosecutors hired Dietz soon after Laney placed a chilling 911 call to calmly report the murders. Though Laney is charged with capital murder, Dietz and another prosecution psychiatrist agreed with defense experts that Laney was so mentally ill she did not know killing her sons was wrong.

Laney told Dietz she believed she and Andrea Yates, another Texas woman who killed her children, were chosen by God to bear witness to the imminent end of the world. Likening herself to the Virgin Mary after learning from the Angel of the Lord that she would soon bear the son of God, Laney said she decided to "ponder" the delusional communication from God.

"I believed with all my heart it was the Lord telling me that, but I couldn't figure out why," Laney said. "I don't understand. Why? What purpose?"

Why Laney killed her sons is the central issue at the trial, now in its third day. The defense maintains Laney is not criminally responsible for the boys' deaths because she was legally insane at the time and could not fully appreciate her actions.

Though prosecutors are not expected to ask jurors to return a guilty verdict, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham asked Dietz many questions Wednesday to get at the issue of whether Laney knew what she was doing was wrong.

Dietz, the 13th witness to testify, said Laney certainly knew that murder was illegal and that her husband would have tried to stop her if he knew what she was thinking.

Laney, he testified, sincerely believed she was on a mission from God.

"I don't think she was thinking about state law when she was doing this, and struggling to carry out God's will," Dietz said.

Dietz said Laney described her "spiritual warfare" during their two-hour talk in December, her internal turmoil over God and Satan, good and evil, and finally life and death.

She did not want to kill her children, Dietz said, and resisted when she thought God told her to kill the boys either by stabbing or strangulation.

Laney said she finally decided to use large rocks -- weighing from 3 to 14 pounds ? to commit the killings after she tripped over a rock while hallucinating in the front yard of her five-acre property in New Chapel Hill.

Laney said God was commanding that the boys be killed in increasingly violent ways because her resistance signified a lack of faith in Him.

"Each time it was getting worse and worse, the way it had to be done," she said, explaining that she decided rocks would be preferable to strangulation.

Seizing on Dietz's testimony about Laney's hesitancy to kill her children, Bingham asked the expert whether this proved she may have been sane at some point. In other words, he reasoned, if she truly believed in God's infallibility wouldn't she carry out His commandment without hesitation?

"If it's the word of God ... and she doesn't know her God is wrong, why does she resist?" Bingham asked.

"Because she loves her children," Dietz replied. "She did not want to kill her children. This was not her decision. She wanted to be able to raise and love and nurture her children, whom she described as precious boys."

Dietz added, "For her this is a conflict of what she desired and what God wills, and she struggled over whether to obey God and her desire to keep her children."

The prosecution's fifth and final witness, forensic psychiatrist Edward Gripon of Beaumont, Texas, agreed that Laney was not sane when she killed her children.

"The presence of mental illness in this particular individual is rather obvious," Gripon testified. "She's actually quite mentally ill, in my opinion." Gripon offered his opinion that the question of Laney's mental health condition is relatively easy for experts compared to the difficult one jurors will have: Deciding if the defendant was legally insane when she killed Joshua and Luke, and seriously injured Aaron.

If acquitted by reason of insanity, Laney likely would face involuntary commitment to a secure mental hospital. If convicted, she faces life in prison. The defense will call its first witness Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. The trial is being broadcast by Court TV.

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