Deanna Laney Found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

Published: Apr. 4, 2004 at 3:32 AM CST|Updated: Apr. 8, 2004 at 3:19 PM CDT
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After seven hours, the jury reaches a verdict.

Deanna Laney will likely head to a mental institution... but still under maximum security.

The jury got the case just before noon Saturday. Eight men and four women bore a week of graphic evidence and emotional testimony. After asking for portions of testimony and a copy of Deanna Laney's 911 call, they announced they had come to a verdict. All the jurors said she is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Throughout this whole trial, the jurors have been very focused -- even through the most graphic testimony.  When the door swung open and the jury came in, many of them were emotional. One carried a box of tissues. Deanna Laney and most of the family was tearful as well.  All Dee Laney said after the verdict was to her lawyers: "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Lead defense attorney F.R. "Buck" Files: "I can tell you she is in a living hell because of what she knows she did."

Knowing now it was wrong, Deanna Laney's lawyers and now a jury agree she didn't know right from wrong last May 10th when she stoned Joshua, Luke, and Aaron.

Defense attorney Tonda Curry: "Our client is not going to be punished by the criminal justice system. Now, and for the rest of her life, the punishment and torment that's going on inside her own head is more significant than anything the criminal justice system could have done to her short of death."

In a trial that was brief compared to other high profile cases -- six days -- there were pictures of horror, scenes of delusion, and tears from many on both sides.

District Attorney Matt Bingham: "It can't help but take a toll on you. It's hard to deal with at times. But you have a job to do and you go down and do it. I don't think anyone in this room or in this courthouse wasn't touched by evidence in this case."

The verdict of the eight man, four woman jury means Laney will be committed to a maximum security mental hospital.  Length of time: undetermined.

As for grumbings in the community -- anger that she was "getting off easy" -- Files says her illness is a sentence by itself.

Files: "It's not curable. I don't know how anyone talks in terms of 'getting off.' The fact that she is not going to be confined in a penal institution simply doesn't mean that she 'gets off.'"

The verdict was made by ordinary citizens, who heard experts on both sides all agree she didn't know right from wrong. That the voice of God she thought she was hearing was very real to her. In the end, the jury had to decide, and did they buy it?

Bingham: "The law is very specific where what the mental health experts say is not the end of it. The jury can base their verdict, disregard based on other evidence.  This is a case where the citizens of Smith County needed to make a decision on."

As for Aaron, the youngest Laney child and the only one to survive -- he is disabled and will be for life. Files says his client regrets what she did every day, but that for now, the mother will not see her son.

Files: "She is concerned on daily hourly basis about him. There is no way that she has seen Aaron or will see Aaron in that facility, no."

Now that the case is over, those who have worked for the last 10 months to get justice say the impact is forever.

Bingham: "For the rest of my life, I'll remember Aaron, Joshua, Luke and what happened to them that day.  But you have a job to do, and I know the defense did what they had to do and I did what I had to do."

At some times, during the past week, the attorneys on each side have been at odds. They all seem to have made amends now this trial is over.

What happens from here: Deanna Laney's case will head toward a civil commitment hearing next week. The decision on what happens to her will be made by County Judge Becky Dempsey, or perhaps by Judge Kent.

There is no doubt that Laney will be taken to a maximum security mental hospital for a substantial length of time.  Her lawyers say she's made progress dealing with her illness now that she's been on medication.

Reported by Morgan Palmer