Deanna Laney was arrested by Smith County, Texas, police for
allegedly beating her two sons to death. CNN affiliate KLTV reports
Smith County D.A. Jack Skeen said he wants to wait until all the evidence is gathered before making that decision in the capital murder case of Deanna LaJune Laney, 38.
In Texas, a capital murder charge carries a punishment of either life in prison or death.
Laney made a brief court appearance Monday, in which a judge read aloud her rights and put her bail at $3 million, the district clerk said. Laney's court-appointed lawyer, F.R. "Buck" Files, advised her to stand silent.
Files said he was simply being cautious because his client has not yet had a mental examination -- the results of which could be key to her defense.
"We have such uncommon allegations against her that it raises, for anyone who's ever been in the system, questions of sanity and competence," he said.
Laney has been acting erratically in her jail cell, the sheriff said.
"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 is under a suicide watch, according to The Associated Press.
In addition to capital murder, authorities said, a charge of aggravated assault is also pending in connection with the beating of Laney's third son, Aaron, 14 months old, who was found bloodied under a pillow in his crib early Saturday. Aaron was in critical condition Monday at Children's Medical Center of Dallas.
Smith said Laney's 8- and 6-year-old sons, who died, were "severely beaten in the head with what appeared to be a rock." He said Laney told authorities that God told her to kill her children.
Sheriff: Laney told 911 dispatcher 'I've killed my boys'
A sheriff's department spokeswoman said deputies arrived at the New Chapel Hill home, about seven miles outside of Tyler, at 12:52 a.m. Saturday.
When officers arrived, they entered the house and found Aaron in his crib, wounded 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.
The recording of the 911 call is in the hands of the district attorney, who said he doesn't plan to release it publicly.
"In any case like this, the incoming 911 tape is very important," Skeen said, "because it contains the initial obvious statements of the defendant."
Smith said the Laneys were a "very stable, loving family" and that the suspect has no history of mental illness.
Similarities to Yates case [Ednote: They were both members
of churches, Laney Assembly of God and Yates The Church of Christ.]
Attorneys on both sides are aware of the similarities to that case.
"Whether or not we use some of Andrea Yates in our case, I cannot tell you," Files said. "Obviously, anyone who looks at Andrea Yates and looks at this case would draw some comparisons, just at first blush."
Files said he has "no doubt" Laney can receive a fair trial in Tyler, the Smith County seat, but said media coverage of the case could pose problems.
Laney sang in the choir 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.
Closing Arguments Begin in Texas Mother's Murder Trial
TYLER, Texas (April 3) - Attorneys began their closing arguments
Saturday morning in the trial of a homemaker who said God ordered
her to use rocks to bludgeon two of her sons to death and severely
injure a third.
"It was graphic, it was horrific and it was brutal,'' prosecutor Matt Bingham told the jury of eight men and four women.
Laney, 39, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to murder in the deaths of 8-year-old Joshua and 6-year-old Luke, and serious injury to a child for the beating of Aaron, now 2.
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.''
Defense attorney Tonda Curry began her argument by asking the jury why a deeply religious woman known as a loving, devoted mother who homeschooled her children would kill two of her children and maim another without so much as a tear.
"There was no crying,'' Curry said. "She was insane. There is no other answer.''
She recalled a tape of Laney calling 911 after midnight on May 10, calmly reporting the murders and directing authorities to her home.
"Do you remember that voice?'' Curry asked the jurors, who sat solemn faced, some appearing pensive. "Have you ever heard a voice like that, so empty of emotion?''
"We have five consistent medical opinions that say she's insane and none to the contrary,'' Curry said.
If Laney is found innocent by reason of insanity, she would be committed to a hospital for treatment. Medical evaluations would dictate when she would be released.
If convicted of capital murder, she would be sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole in 40 years. If convicted of serious injury to a child, a first-degree felony, the sentence could range from five years to life.
Laney, who home-schooled her children in the tiny town of New Chapel Hill, 100 miles southeast of Dallas, was convinced she was divinely chosen by God to kill her children last Mother's Day weekend, psychiatrists testified.