TYLER, Texas -- A woman who said God had ordered her to bash in the heads of her sons was acquitted of all charges by reason of insanity yesterday, after a jury determined that she did not know right from wrong when she killed the boys.
A jury found that the woman, Deanna Laney, was legally insane May 9 when she killed her two older sons, ages 6 and 8, in the front yard and left the youngest, now 2, maimed in his crib. Laney, 39, would have received a life sentence had she been convicted of capital murder.
Laney broke into tears as the verdict was read. Her husband, Keith Laney, sat with his head down. A few jurors cried and struggled to maintain their composure.
State law allows Laney to be committed to a maximum security state hospital. Medical evaluations will dictate when she will be released.
Jurors deliberated for about seven hours before reaching their verdict in the deaths of Joshua, 8 years old, and Luke, 6, and the beating of Aaron.
Defense lawyers had argued that insanity was the only reason why a deeply religious mother who had home-schooled her children would kill two of them and maim another without so much as a tear.
"There was no crying," said Tonda Curry, one of Laney's lawyers. "She was insane. There is no other answer."
All five mental health specialists consulted in the case, including two for the prosecution and one for the judge, concluded that a severe mental illness caused Laney to have psychotic delusions that rendered her incapable of knowing right from wrong when she carried out the killings. That is the standard in Texas for insanity defenses.
Psychiatrists testified that Laney believed she was chosen by God -- just as Mary was chosen to bear Christ -- to kill her children as a test of faith and then serve as a witness after the world ended.
In closing arguments earlier yesterday, prosecutors portrayed the killings last Mother's Day weekend as deceptively planned and coldly executed.
"It was graphic, it was horrific and it was brutal," prosecutor Matt Bingham told the jury.
Bingham pounded his fist in his hand as he recounted Joshua's killing: "He got strike after strike after strike on his head to the point that his brains were coming out of his head like liquid."
Prosecutors said that even if Laney believed she was doing right by God, she had to have known she was doing wrong by state law.
Her first call, they pointed out, was to 911 to summon authorities.