Judge Will Give Verdict in Boys' Drownings Thursday Mother Is Facing Possible Life Sentence

By Ward, Paula Reed | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 11, 2017 | Go to article overview

Judge Will Give Verdict in Boys' Drownings Thursday Mother Is Facing Possible Life Sentence


Ward, Paula Reed, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Psychiatrists from both sides agree that Laurel Michelle Schlemmer knew what she was doing was wrong when she drowned two of her sons in their McCandless bathtub three years ago.

The defense expert, Robert Wettstein, said that, based on Ms. Schlemmer's diagnoses of anxiety, depression and dissociative episodes, her cognitive functions were impaired at the time, meaning her ability to premeditate and deliberate the killing was "substantially impaired."

But the prosecution expert, Bruce Wright, said that despite Ms. Schlemmer's mental illnesses, she had the capacity to form the specific intent to kill and was fully conscious of it.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, presiding over Ms. Schlemmer's nonjury trial on two counts of homicide, will deliver his verdict Thursday.

The defense says Ms. Schlemmer had diminished capacity and therefore could not form the specific intent to kill as required for first-degree murder. Defense attorney Michael Machen is asking that his client be found guilty of third-degree murder, which would carry a maximum prison term of 20 to 40 years on each count.

The prosecution believes the verdict should be guilty but mentally ill of first-degree murder. That would mean Ms. Schlemmer would be sentenced to life in prison without parole but would have access to treatment.

Ms. Schlemmer, 43, who worked as a teacher and has a master's degree, is accused of killing her two youngest sons, Daniel, 6, and Luke, 3, on April 1, 2014. A year earlier, on April 16, 2013, she told Dr. Wettstein, she had also tried to kill them, running them over repeatedly with her minivan in her parents' garage - getting out twice to see if they were dead.

Dr. Wettstein testified Friday about Ms. Schlemmer's medical history, including three miscarriages, and noted that her husband didn't believe in birth control. Over the years, he continued, she had been treated with psychologists and a social worker before the boys' deaths, but never with a psychiatrist. Ms. Schlemmer told him her husband didn't believe in psychotropic medications.

The woman's anxiety and depression were aggravated, Dr. Wettstein said, by Ms. Schlemmer's concerns that Luke and Daniel were autistic and would be unable to function in society. The concerns were unfounded - she had the children evaluated multiple times and neither was autistic, although Daniel did have a speech delay and was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.

She thought "they were doomed to their futures being impaired and forever be dependent upon her and her husband," he said. …

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