I haven't really been following the trial of Deanna Laney, the East Texas woman on trial for killing two of her children by stoning them to death (a third child survived), but I did notice that everyone's favorite professional witness, Dr. Park Dietz, had made an appearance.
"In a series of experiences she came to believe God told her to kill her children," Dietz said. "She was able to give detailed information on how god told her to kill her children."
That detailed information was shown in a nearly hour long video tape of Dietz interview with Laney. It was the jury's first chance to hear from laney herself. While the video played for the jury, Laney sat staring into her lap, quietly crying. After the tape, lead defense attorney Buck Files tried to drill home the point that Dr. Dietz has never waivered in his findings.
"Do you have an opinion as to whether or not on may 10, 2003 that Deanna Laney, did not know that her conduct was wrong?" Files asked.
"I do have an opinion," answered Dietz.
"What is that opinion?" asked Files.
"It's my opinion at that time, because of her severe mental disease, Mrs. Laney did not know that her conduct was wrong," concluded Dietz.
Despite the fact that Dr. Dietz was hired by prosecutors for this case, District Attorney Matt Bingham almost seemed to spar with him a little on his answers.
"So then your conclusions are absolute?" Bingham asked. "She was absolutely insane?"
"Whether she was insane is for the jury to determine," answered Dietz.
"The point is, here's a lady that's killed two of her kids and injured a third. You cannot sit on that stand and say absolutely that she did not know her conduct was wrong," commented Bingham. "You can say in your opinion, but not absolute."
"It is my opinion," answered Dietz."
This Tyler Morning Telegraph article does a really good job of covering the history and debate over Texas' oft-reviled insanity defense law. Andrea Yates makes an appearance here as well.
George Parnham, Mrs. Yates' defense attorney, has become one of Texas' most outspoken critics of the state's insanity standard. He argued that Mrs. Yates became psychotic as the result of postpartum depression, and thought killing her children would save them from Satan. He says he has spoken to F.R. "Buck" Files, Mrs. Laney's defense attorney, but is not part of the defense team.
"We go back to the word 'know,'" Parnham says. "Does 'know' mean a perception on the part of the sick person that society would view her actions as being illegal or wrong, but she knows them to be right? The danger is that what we do with our (Texas) standard is impose our own logic - our own logic that is unfettered by mental disease. If you're psychotic, you live in a different real world."
Parnham says that in a "utopian atmosphere," mentally ill killers could get treatment without a jury trial. "But I don't know if we're ever going to reach that," he says.
One last thing, from the Chron story about the Laney trial:
Prosecutors have struggled to discredit their own psychiatric witnesses to prove that Deanna Laney knew her actions were wrong and is guilty.
Above all, they tried to convince jurors that regardless of whether Deanna Laney believed she was doing right by God, she had to have known she was doing wrong by state law. Her first call, prosecutors pointed out, was to 911 to summon authorities.