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Jury accepts insanity defense for mother who killed sons

John Springer
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TYLER, Texas (Court TV) -- Deanna Laney, who bludgeoned her two young sons to death last year because she believed God commanded it, was legally insane and could not distinguish from right or wrong, a jury concluded Saturday.

Laney, a 39-year-old East Texas housewife, burst into tears and was visibly shaking for more than 30 minutes after Judge Cynthia Kent announced that the jury found her not guilty of capital murder by reason of insanity. Keith Laney, who testified that he still loves his wife of 19 years, remained composed throughout the reading.

The jury, eight men and four women, also found after six and a half hours of deliberations that Laney was not guilty by reason of insanity for causing seriously bodily injury to a third son who survived the attacks last May. Laney told psychiatrists that her then 14-month-old son Aaron, who remains nearly blind and brain-injured, just "wouldn't die" and she feared that she had "done wrong" by him.

Had she been convicted, the 39-year-old woman would have faced a mandatory life sentence and would not have been eligible for parole until she served 40 years in a state prison. Laney, who was remanded to custody pending a civil commitment proceeding later this month, now faces the prospect of confinement to a forensic psychiatric facility for an unspecified period of treatment.

"She is so emotional at this particular time that she wasn't able to say anything but simply, 'Thank you, thank you, thank you' to the three of us," defense lawyer F.R. "Buck" Files, flanked by two colleagues, told reporters at a press conference.

"She is in a living hell because of what she knows she did when she was delusional," Files said.

Jurors were escorted out of the courthouse after being sequestered for nine days. They did not speak with the media.

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said that he had no quarrel with the verdict. Bingham said his only duty was to present the evidence, prove that Laney committed the killings and then let jurors decide whether the defense met its burden under the insanity statute.

"We had a burden to meet and that burden was proven: That she committed the offenses beyond a reasonable doubt," said Bingham, who did not ask jurors specifically to return guilty verdicts. "I did what the law required me to do. I presented all the evidence."

According to testimony, Laney led two of her sons to a rock garden and crushed their skulls with heavy stones because she believed God commanded it. She also believed that she and Andrea Yates, the Houston mother serving a life sentence for drowning her five children, were chosen by God to witness the imminent end of the world.

Four psychiatrists, including one hired by the prosecution and another hired by the court, concluded that Laney could not discern right from wrong when she killed her two sons and seriously injured the third two days before Mother's Day last year. Jurors, by the verdict, apparently agreed with the experts.

Laney, who looked at jurors after the verdict for the first time, is due back in court Tuesday to learn whether Kent will retain jurisdiction over civil commitment proceedings. If she is committed, as expected, it would be at a psychiatric hospital with a maximum-security unit.

Files said it would be wrong for anyone to believe that Laney "got off" by a legal technicality. He refused to answer questions about what he believes should become of his client now.

"She has a chemical imbalance in her brain that she will have for the rest of her life," Files said. "It's not curable."

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