Moms who kill often suffer from psychotic depression

San Antonio-Express News, May 13, 2003
By Rosemary Barnes, San Antonio Express-News

Women who kill their children usually are suffering from psychotic depression that robs them of all sense of reality, mental health experts said Monday.

The disturbing topic has once again become part of the public consciousness as an East Texas mother of three boys admitted to fatally pummeling two of her sons with large rocks and critically injuring a third son early Saturday.

Deanna LaJune Laney, 38, told Smith County sheriff’s deputies that she acted on God’s orders to kill her children.

“We’re talking so depressed that it goes way beyond feeling tired and hopeless. These women have developed a distorted belief system that tells them they have failed in their marriages, in raising their children and in just about every other facet of their lives,” said Dr. Joe E. Thornton, a psychiatrist and co-director of the Center for Violence Prevention with the University of Texas Health Science Center.

“It’s also very common for them to believe that God wants them to suffer,” Thornton said. “Living with the knowledge that you killed your children has got to be the ultimate in suffering.”

The East Texas tragedies are the latest in an odd series of Texas slayings committed by the victims’ parents.

Darlie Routier is on death row for the 1996 Rowlett stabbing deaths of two sons.

Andrea Yates is serving life in prison for the 2001 drowning deaths of her five young children in Houston.

Earlier this year, Maria Angela Camacho and her common-law husband, John Allen Rubio, were charged with the suffocation and stabbing deaths of their three children, who were found decapitated in the family’s Brownsville apartment.

The horrifying nature of these murders has garnered tremendous media attention over the years, giving the impression that the number of parents killing their children was on the upswing, said Dr. Phillip J. Resnick, professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Not so, Resnick said.

“I’ve been following these kind of cases for 38 years, and I have not seen an increase,” said Resnick, who testified on behalf of Yates in her trial last year. “Not all depressed women kill their children. Not all psychotic women kill their children. The enormous publicity these cases draw makes this sort of crime seem more prevalent than it is.”

After receiving an emergency call from Deanna Laney on Saturday morning that she had “bashed (her children’s) heads in with a rock,” deputies found Joshua Keith Laney, 8, and Luke Allen Laney, 6, dead in the yard of their New Chapel Hill home outside of Tyler. Large rocks had been placed on top of their bodies.

The deputies then discovered Aaron James Laney, 14 months, alive but bleeding in his crib with a pillow over his face. He was listed in critical condition Monday evening at a Dallas hospital.

Deanna Laney was being held Monday in the Smith County Jail in lieu of a $3 million bond on capital murder and aggravated assault charges.

Psychotic delusion convinces many of these mothers that their children are possessed by demons and that murder out of love is the only way to save the children from eternal damnation, Resnick said.

Averting tragedy is difficult because perpetrators seldom disclose their delusional states, Resnick said.

“Psychotic tendencies evolve gradually over time, and the vast majority of the time, these women do not reveal their psychotic thoughts to anyone, even their psychiatrists,” he said. “It’s hard to know if a person is dangerous. The best you can do is make sure a depressed person is getting good psychiatric care and rely on the doctor’s advice.”

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