The Similarities Between Deanna Laney & Andrea Yates - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

03/26/04

The Similarities Between Deanna Laney & Andrea Yates

"To me the obvious similarities is basically two fold, that a mother takes the life of a child that she has born into this world," said George Parnham, Andrea Yates' attorney. "The other similarity of course is the mental element."

On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children. On May 10, 2003, it happened again. Another mother, Deanna Laney admitted to police she killed her sons. Within moment, parallels were drawn between the cases. George Parnham says the most noticeable comparison is psychosis evident in Andrea's case.

"There is no question in my mind, in Andrea's case, she was obviously so mentally ill that she was legally insane. In the Laney case, I am certain there is a mental element there that would also impact her decision to do what she did," said Parnham. "It would seem to me her actions, the very definition of what she did, speaks loudly to some type mental element.

Parnham says the evidence in Andrea's case, proves she truly was mentally ill.

"She took Mary (her 6 month old daughter) and put Mary in the bathroom with her and gave her a bottle," explains Parnham. "She wanted to watch Mary because she didn't want her to crawl away and hurt herself. Ironic because a few minutes later she would be dead.

Deanna Laney's mental state has not yet been assessed. So far no history of mental problems or psychosis have been revealed in the Laney case, but Parnham says that too is not unusual.

"One does not have to have previous mental illnesses in order to reach a level of psychotic proportions," he explains. "I would be willing to bet there is something in this person's (Laney's) background that either went undetected or ignored."

Parnham says often times psychosis can go undetected because a woman is too embarrassed to mention to anyone that she has psychotic thoughts of hurting her children.

"Some blame can be laid at the feet of the mother who is extremely reluctant -- understandably so to share with her husband or doctor the fact that she is having or experiencing the most horrific of thoughts."

Parnham believes two other similarities may prove a mental problem, one -- hearing voices. Both women claimed God spoke to them and told them to kill their children.

"Those voices to a psychotic person are as real as my voice to you. The dilutions Andrea was suffering from were as real as you sitting here in front of me," Parnham explains.

The second similarity, the 911 call. Both women called 911 to report to police what they had done.

"I have heard it argued that she (Andrea) knew what she did was wrong because she called 911. Yet in other cases I have heard it argued that if a person did not call 911 like Susan Smith for example, it shows they knew they had done something wrong," says Parnham.

Parnham used both arguments in Andrea's case, but it failed. Parnham blames the guilty verdict on Texas's insanity laws.

"In Texas, it is a very archaic and simplistic standard. The standard consists of two elements, a person must be suffering from a mental diseases or defect that results in the individual not knowing what he or she is doing is wrong, that's it." He explained to me. Parnham is now working on changing the Texas insanity laws. He says by changing the laws he can give Andrea something to live for and may help women in the future who suffer from psychosis. Parnham says the changes are not expected soon though, and will probably not be changed in time for Laney.

Parnham also explained to me that the Yates case and Laney case are not 100 percent similar.

"I know there are differences between the two cases and I am not here to suggest the Laney case is 4 square with Andrea Yates.

One of the differences, Andrea waited to commit her crime when she was alone.

"She believed so strongly she was doing right, and she knew Rusty would stop her, so she waited till he was not around," he explained. "She had one hour of opportunity to do what she did. She thought about it the night before and when Rusty left, she started making preparations. Then she set about doing what she did. But even if you make plans it does not necessarily mean you are not insane."

He also notes, Andrea believed she was fulfilling a prophecy.

"She believed she was fulfilling a prophecy in taking there lives, and no evidence to the contrary would convince her that her children were not stumbling and were not going to die in hell. That proves she is psychotic."

Because of his work on the Andrea Yates case, Parnham continues to champion mental health awareness for women. He and Russell Yates started a foundation to help educate the legal and medical community about mental health. You can learn more about it at www.yateskids.com.

Parnham also encourages the Laney family to do what they can to help educate the community about mental health as well to help them heal.

"Everything is so negative in a situation like the Laney situation. There is nothing positive at all but you have to be able to forge ahead and find something positive. In Andrea's situation we were able to do that -- and it seems to me we have to try to have a better understanding of mental illness.

Parnham still meets with Yates' on a regular basis. She is still in the mental health facility in Rusk. He is working on her appeal right now. She was sentenced to life in prison in March 2002.

Michelle Mortensen, reporting.

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