TYLER, Texas – A mother who bashed her sons' heads with heavy rocks, killing two of the boys, was so delusional she thought the Lord told her to do it, her attorney said Monday in opening statements at her murder trial.
"Does she follow what she believes to be God's will or does she turn her back on her God?" defense attorney F.R. "Buck" Files Jr. (search) asked the jury of eight men and four women.
Deanna Laney (search), a 39-year-old stay-at-home mother, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to charges of murdering 8-year-old Joshua and 6-year-old Luke and causing serious injury to Aaron, 14 months old at the time. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.
The deeply religious East Texas woman who home-schooled her children in the tiny town of New Chapel Hill (search), 100 miles southeast of Dallas, wept uncontrollably and shook her head, at times burying her face in a tissue, as she listened to testimony and prosecutors showed gruesome photographs of her slain children.
Her husband, who has supported her, sat a few rows behind with friends and family.
Prosecutors contend Laney knew right from wrong when she killed her children last Mother's Day weekend, despite opinions from two psychiatric experts for the defense, two for the prosecution and one for the judge — all of whom said Laney was legally insane.
"The issue of sanity is tried in the court, not the hospitals," District Attorney Matt Bingham told the jury.
Prosecutors played a tape of a 911 call in which Laney, in her high, dainty voice, calmly told a dispatcher after midnight on May 10: "I just killed my boys." She also described the color of her house and directed authorities to her home.
"I just did what I had to do," she told the dispatcher.
Later in the tape, she appeared to doubt whether she should have beaten the baby, saying, "I don't think I did right by Aaron." She later said, "I don't think I was supposed to kill him."
In his opening statement, the district attorney told the jury: "The evidence will show you that the last thing Josh and Luke Laney ever saw was their mom with a rock over their head and the last thing they ever felt was that rock crashing over their head."
Bingham said Laney attacked the baby first, hammering his head with a 41/2-pound rock she had hidden under his crib. When he began crying, Laney's husband, Keith, woke up and found his wife standing over the baby.
"Everything's OK," she told him.
He assumed his wife was changing a diaper and went back to bed. Laney then struck the baby again, and after hearing a gurgling from the blood in Aaron's throat, she covered him with a pillow and left the room, Bingham said.
"Aaron Laney will never be the same," said Bingham, adding that the boy's vision has been impaired and he will never live independently.
With Aaron's blood on her pajamas, Laney then woke up Luke, led him outside the family's rural brick home and asked him to put his head on a large rock, the prosecutor said.
"He does what his Mommy tells him," Bingham said.
Laney smashed the 6-year-old's skull with a large landscaping rock. Then she went to get her oldest child, Joshua.
He, too, obeyed his mother and put his head against a large rock in the yard. His mother bashed his skull with a 16-pound rock.
The boys were found in their underwear. Their bodies had been dragged to a dark corner of the front yard.
Officers who testified about the crime scene said the boys' father was hysterical when he awoke to find his sons slain, yelling over and over at his wife, "What did you do?"