Mother gets 30 to 80 years in sons' bathtub drownings

Laurel Schlemmer, center, is escorted to court by Allegheny County Sheriffs for her sentencing hearing, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in Pittsburgh. Schlemmer, who drowned her two youngest sons in their bathtub because she felt that would enable her to be a better mother to their older brother, was sentenced to 30 to 80 years in prison. (Lake Fong/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

A Pennsylvania woman who drowned her two youngest sons in their bathtub because she felt that would enable her to be a better mother to their older brother has been sentenced to 30 to 80 years in prison

PITTSBURGH — A Pennsylvania woman who drowned her two youngest sons in their bathtub because she felt that would enable her to be a better mother to their older brother was sentenced to 30 to 80 years in prison.

Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning called the sentence imposed Wednesday on 44-year-old Laurel Schlemmer a de-facto life term given her age.

The judge found Schlemmer guilty but mentally ill of two counts of third-degree murder in March, so she'll begin her sentence in a state mental hospital and be moved to prison if doctors ever deem her cured.

The McCandless woman's attorney had argued her diminished mental capacity kept her from forming the intent to kill her sons, 6-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Luke, in April 2014.

Schlemmer's husband, parents and surviving son, who was 7 years old at the time of the incident, weren't in court.

Manning had delayed the sentencing for a month, because he was concerned Schlemmer might not be mentally competent. But he said a psychiatrist found no symptoms of any of the mental illnesses Schlemmer suffered from when she killed her sons.

Doctors told the judge before trial that she often wouldn't take her medications and her symptoms were aggravated. But prior to sentencing, the judge said she was on medication.

Schlemmer reported her mood as a "seven" on a scale of one to 10, a statement Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini ridiculed in her arguments to the judge.

"A mother who killed her children?" said Pellegrini, who sought the maximum possible prison term, 40 to 80 years. "How can she be a seven out of 10?"

Defense attorney Michael Machen blamed Schlemmer's crimes on a lack of readily available mental health care, noting the state hospital where she spent much of her time since her arrest was about 60 miles (96.6 kilometers) from Pittsburgh. Two character witnesses described Schlemmer as "kind and caring" and noted her volunteer work as a Sunday school teacher and choir member.

"This is the same church where the pastor told her to stop taking her medicines?" Pellegrini asked one witness.

Schlemmer professed deep remorse and told the judge she thought she'd be ideally suited to volunteer as a prison chaplain, and looked forward to contributing to society upon her release.

That didn't sit well with prosecutors, who noted Schlemmer didn't mention her dead sons by name.

"It's almost inconceivable that their names were not mentioned during the sentencing hearing," said the district attorney's spokesman Mike Manko.

Psychiatrists for the prosecution and defense testified in March that Schlemmer was obsessed with the idea that her two youngest sons were autistic and would never grow up normally, even though a battery of tests she put them through showed otherwise.

Schlemmer met her husband, Mark, on a Christian singles online dating site. She told psychiatrists she felt "pressured" to have more children as her husband opted not to use birth control for religious reasons.

Schlemmer also had three miscarriages and felt the younger sons were "foreign" to her and her husband and not as compliant as their oldest boy, according to Dr. Bruce Wright, the prosecution's expert.

Schlemmer drowned the younger boys after taking her oldest son to a school bus stop.

She told psychiatrists she tried to kill Luke and Daniel in April 2013 by tying their hands and feet with twine and backing over them with her car three times, but then claimed it was an accident. Police and social workers also determined it was an accident. Schlemmer told her husband days before the drownings that she wanted to confess to that crime, but he talked her out of it, prosecutors said.

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