Sheriff: Mother said God told her to kill sons

Suspect alternately crying, praying in cell, he says

Monday, May 12, 2003


TYLER, Texas (CNN) -- Deanna LaJune Laney, the woman accused of killing two of her three young sons last weekend, is acting erratically in her jail cell, an East Texas sheriff told CNN. "She goes from a fetal position of crying, to walking around the cell singing gospel music. She stops and prays, then she goes into a crying hysteria," Smith County Sheriff J. B. Smith said. "She all of a sudden realizes what she's done, then she'll go into a flatline, blank stare." Laney, 38, is under a suicide watch, according to The Associated Press. The church choir member who told authorities that God told her to kill her children now faces capital murder charges in the deaths of her 8- and 6-year-old sons, he said. Smith said the children "had been severely beaten in the head with what appeared to be a rock." A third son, 14-month-old Aaron, was in critical condition Monday at Dallas Children's Hospital, and Laney faces aggravated assault charges in his beating, according to the sheriff's department. Smith said that after the killings early Saturday, Laney made a 911 call on her cellular phone and spoke in a "very calm, matter-of-fact way. She told a dispatcher, 'I've killed my boys,'" Smith said.  Bail has been set at $3 million, and a lawyer has been appointed for Laney, he said. 


A sheriff's department spokeswoman said deputies responded at 12:52 a.m. Saturday to the New Chapel Hill home, about seven miles outside of Tyler. When officers arrived, they entered the house and found Aaron in his crib, bludgeoned and with a pillow over his head, but still breathing. Laney was not there, but continued to talk calmly on the phone, Smith said. Officers found the woman, wearing bloody clothes, in a wooded area about 100 yards behind her house, the sheriff said. Laney described where her other two children could be found but refused to go there herself, he said. Her husband was apparently asleep inside the house during the attack because he came walking out "in his nightclothes," the sheriff said. Smith said the children's father was still in shock and has not yet been interviewed, but investigators hope to speak to him Monday. "Any time you're dealing with children, it's such a devastating thing," Smith said. "It's so emotional to see something like this that makes absolutely no sense" He said the Laneys were a "very stable, loving family" and that the suspect has no history of mental illness.


Two years ago, another Texas woman, Andrea Yates, drowned her five children while suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis. She told authorities that Satan told her to kill the children. Despite a documented history of mental illness, a jury rejected her plea of innocent by reason of insanity and convicted her of murder. Yates was sentenced to life in prison but will be eligible for parole in 40 years.


Laney sang at the First Assembly of God Church where her brother-in-law, Gary Bell, is the pastor, according to The Associated Press. "This was a brutal and horrific incident that has changed our lives [and will] for years to come," Bell said during a service Sunday. "But we all believe as a family that this wasn't our Dee that did this to her children." Neighbors, too, were at a loss to explain what went wrong. "There's no way in the world that I would believe she would do this without something taking over her and something snapping in her," a neighbor said. "It is absolutely devastating to the neighborhood," he said.