Mother gets acquitted in stoning death of sons

TYLER, Texas -- A woman who claimed God ordered her to bash in the heads of her sons was acquitted of all charges by reason of insanity Saturday after a jury determined she did not know right from wrong during the killings.

A jury found that 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 an automatic life sentence had she been convicted of capital murder.

Laney broke into tears as the verdict was read. Her husband, Keith Laney, sat solemnly 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 may be released.

Jurors deliberated about seven hours before reaching their verdict in the deaths of 8-year-old Joshua and 6-year-old Luke, and the beating of Aaron.

Defense attorneys argued that insanity was the only reason why a deeply religious mother who homeschooled her children would kill two of them and maim another without so much as a tear.

All five mental health experts 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 during the killings -- the standard in Texas for insanity.

Psychiatrists testified that Laney believed she was divinely 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 Saturday, 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 portrayed the killings as deceptively planned and coldly executed. They 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.

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