Attorney: Woman thought God told her to kill sons
Texas mother uses insanity defense at trial
(CNN) -- In opening statements Monday, a Texas prosecutor described how a mother smashed the head of her infant son with a rock and then led her two older boys outside and did the same to them, killing the two oldest boys.
Deanna Laney, 39, has been charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of sons Joshua, 8, and Luke, 6, and a single count of injury to a child, Aaron, her 15-month-old who survived the attack.
The prosecution's first witness in the Tyler, Texas, trial was the 911 operator who identified the tape of Laney's dispassionate call saying that she had killed her boys with a rock.
Laney sat through opening statements with her head bowed, crying softly. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutors have chosen not to seek the death penalty in the case.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham told jurors it was their task to determine if Laney was insane or if the prosecution had proved that she knew what she was doing when she bludgeoned the heads of her three sons.
Aaron survived the attack on May 9, 2003 -- Mother's Day -- with critical injuries.
"His vision is impaired, and he will never be self-sufficient," Bingham said. "At best he will always be dependent on someone else.
"The last thing that Joshua and Luke Laney ever saw on this Earth was their Mama holding a rock over her head," he said. "And the last thing they felt was that rock crashing down on them."
After killing Joshua and Luke, Bingham said, Laney telephoned 911, telling the operator, "I just killed my boys. I don't think I did right by Aaron."
When the 911 tape was played in court, Laney closed her eyes and began crying again as she heard the operator try to keep her on the line until sheriff's deputies arrived. Her husband -- Keith Laney, who has been supportive of his wife -- sat two rows behind the defense table, his head in his hands as the tape was played.
Laney's court-appointed attorney, F.R. "Buck" Files, presented his case for an insanity defense during his opening statement.
"You will hear that she was a sick person on a quest to be closer to her Lord," Files said. "The only explanation which any of the witnesses can offer for her conduct ... is that Deanna Laney was legally insane."
Files said Laney believed that God had told her the world was going to end and "she had to get her house in order," which included killing her children.
"The dilemma she faced is a terrible one for a mother," Files said. "Does she follow what she believes to be God's will, or does she turn her back on God?"
Files said he would present witnesses who would corroborate Laney's love of her children as well as her belief "that the word of God was infallible."
"It destroyed her ability to discern the wrongness of her act," he said.
If the jury were to agree with the defense, Laney would immediately go into maximum security for evaluation at a state psychiatric hospital, where she could stay as long as the maximum sentence she would receive if she were convicted -- 40 years.
The jury will not be permitted to hear and consider that information.