Deanna Laney Released From State Hospital
By DAYNA WORCHEL
A New Chapel Hill housewife who was acquitted by a Smith County jury in April 2004 on reasons of insanity for stoning her sons to death has been released from Kerrville State Hospital.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham said Deanna Laney, now 47, has been confined to the hospital since 2007 after she was transferred from Vernon State Hospital in 2004.
There was a closed-door civil commitment hearing for Ms. Laney in November in the 114th District Court, but the outcome of that hearing was unclear.
"All of the doctors who came to the November hearing testified that she wasn't mentally ill," Bingham said. He added that his office did everything possible to find evidence to allow Ms. Laney to remain in the mental hospital, including calling in his own experts to testify.
Bingham said he respected the verdict of the jury and that Judge Christy Kennedy "did what she had to do and followed the law." He said he wants the public to understand that his office and Judge Kennedy had to follow the law.
According to Judge Kennedy's order, "Witnesses testified that Deanna Laney was not likely to cause harm to herself, that she was not likely to cause serious harm to others and that she was not experiencing substantial mental deterioration of her ability to function independently. All witnesses testified that there was no further need for Deanna Laney to continue inpatient treatment."
Bingham said he did not know exactly when Ms. Laney was released and did not know where she was living. Her treatment plan has been sealed by the court, he said, because the case became a civil matter after she was acquitted. Her husband, Keith Laney, has been notified of the release, Bingham said.
Matt Bingham and Ms. Laney's defense attorney F.R. Buck Files had said they were barred by law from discussing the results after the November hearing.
When Ms. Laney was acquitted by a Smith County jury in April 2004, then-114th District Judge Cynthia Stevens Kent ordered Ms. Laney be placed in a maximum-security inpatient treatment facility. Since then, it has been determined at hearings each year that Ms. Laney should remain at an inpatient facility. Judge Kent retired from the bench in 2008.
In June 2004, Vernon State Hospital transferred Ms. Laney from its maximum-security facility to Kerrville State Hospital, a nonsecure inpatient facility, court documents state.
Between August and December 2005, Ms. Laney's treatment team granted her brief passes off the hospital campus in Kerrville.
In 2007, after attorneys discovered that Ms. Laney had been transferred from Vernon State Hospital to Kerrville State Hospital and was being allowed unsupervised furloughs by doctors, Judge Kent put a stop to it at the request of prosecutors.
Ms. Laney's defense attorneys appealed the decision, but the 12th Court of Appeals ruled in April 2007 that the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation could not grant Ms. Laney passes to leave the facility with her parents to go shopping and dining in the Hill Country.
Law Enforcement Reaction
Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith said on Thursday that he is shocked, very concerned and upset about the release.
"I believe that most of us in law enforcement were under the impression that Deanna Laney would be hospitalized for the rest of her life," he said.
Smith's office investigated the 2003 deaths of Ms. Laney's children, and Smith and other seasoned lawmen said it was one of the most gruesome crime scenes they had ever seen.
The sheriff, after being asked by the
Tyler Morning Telegraph
spoke with Judge Kennedy's court more than two weeks ago and was told that Ms. Laney was confined and that nothing had changed.
"I'm very concerned and very upset that I was not informed of this," Smith said. The judge's order was dated May 15.
A jury found Ms. Laney, a then-43-year-old housewife who home-schooled her children, not guilty by reason of insanity for stoning her sons to death on Mother's Day weekend in 2003.
Joshua, 8, and Luke, 6, were found dead in the front yard of the family's New Chapel Hill home, and then 14-month-old Aaron was found seriously injured in his crib.
Ms. Laney's attorneys admitted during the trial that she stoned her children but contended that she was insane and did not know that what she was doing was wrong. Ms. Laney told authorities God told her to kill her children.
Under Texas law, people are found legally insane if, at the time of an offense, they did not know their conduct was wrong because of some mental illness or defect.
Ms. Laney was defended in trial by attorneys Files, Tonda Curry and LaJuanda Lacy, while Bingham, former First Assistant District Attorney Brett Harrison and current First Assistant District Attorney April Sikes prosecuted the case.
Staff Writer Kenneth Dean contributed to this report.