Lawyer in case of slain children may use defense similar to Yates

Associated Press, May 13, 2003

TYLER, Texas (AP) — The case of a woman accused of bludgeoning to death two of her sons and seriously injuring a third bears striking similarities to the case of Andrea Yates and could produce a similar defense, the woman’s lawyer said.

Yates, of Houston, claimed insanity after drowning her five children in their family’s bathtub in June 2001. Yates called 911 after the drownings and later told police the devil had told her to kill her children. Jurors rejected her plea, convicting her of murder, and she is serving life in prison.

Deanna LaJune Laney, 38, is charged with two counts of capital murder and one count of aggravated assault in the weekend deaths at the family’s home in rural New Chapel Hill. Laney called 911 and said she had killed her children. Sheriff’s deputies who responded to her call early Saturday found the two older boys, Joshua, 8, and Luke, 6, dead in the yard wearing only their underwear. Large rocks were atop their bodies.

Deputies found her 14-month-old son, Aaron, alive in his crib, bleeding from a skull fracture and with a pillow over his face. Wearing bloodstained pajamas, their mother told the first deputy on the scene “I had to,” according to an arrest affidavit obtained by the Tyler Morning Telegraph.

Investigators who interviewed her said she occasionally started singing spiritual hymns or muttering about God.

“Obviously, anyone who looks at Andrea Yates and looks at this case would draw some comparison just at first blush,” Laney’s lawyer F.R. “Buck” Files said Monday.

Yates’ husband, Russell, echoed that assessment Tuesday, saying on NBC’s “Today” that the Laney case is “eerily similar to what happened in my family.”

“From the outside, people can appear pretty normal and pretty functional,” Russell Yates said. “It’s just that parts of their reality change, and then they act within their distorted reality.”

Files has discussed Laney’s case with Yates’ attorney, George Parnham, and will consider using some of Parnham’s defense tactics.

“Of course, I’ve spoken to him,” he said. “Did he call and say, `You’re in for a roller coaster ride which you’ll never forget and will be terribly unpleasant’? Yes.”

Laney appeared in court Monday looking wide-eyed and nodded when Judge Cynthia Kent asked her if she understood her rights. Files, however, suggested in court that Laney may not understand the charges against her.

“I’m not sure if she can truthfully say she understands what is going on,” he told the judge. She is being held in jail on $3 million bail.

Laney’s parents and cousins were among a tearful group of relatives who looked on from the first row of the courtroom. Her husband, Keith, who police said was apparently asleep during the attack, was at the hospital with Aaron.

Aaron had been admitted to the hospital in critical condition; the hospital did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking an update on his condition.

District Attorney Jack Skeen said after the hearing that he wasn’t aware of any evidence to suggest that Laney suffers from mental problems or was confused about her circumstances.

“I don’t know if the term incoherent would apply,” he said.

Skeen said it is too early to decide whether to seek the death penalty in the case, which remained under investigation.

Dr. Lucy Puryear, a Houston psychiatrist who testified for Yates’ defense, said Laney could have started suffering from postpartum depression after her last child was born and grown progressively more ill.

What is known publicly about Laney’s case suggests that she might have had “something like bipolar disorder where people get very agitated, have religious delusions of God speaking to them, and they have some sort of mission or purpose or duty that they have to carry out and sometimes end up doing very horrible things,” Puryear told The Dallas Morning News. “It sounds pretty clearly like she wasn’t in her right mind.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday May 17, 2003.
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