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Pennsylvania Mom Convicted of Drowning Two Sons in Bathtub, Had Tried to Kill Them by Running Them Over

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Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Laurel Schlemmer
Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

A Pennsylvania mother has been convicted of drowning her two youngest sons in a bathtub in 2014, but a judge says that she is mentally ill.

Laurel Michelle Schlemmer was on trial for drowning sons Luke, 3, and Daniel, 6. The prosecution had argued that she had previously tried to kill them a year earlier by tying them up and running them over with her minivan.

According to prosecutors, Schlemmer’s husband went to work on April 1, 2014. Then, they said, she walked her oldest son, Joshua, to his school bus stop. When she returned home, she drowned the two boys in the bathtub. In a 911 call she subsequently reported they were “unconscious.”

During trial, Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini presented a chilling motive. “She thought she’d be a better mother to Joshua if her other two children would go to heaven,” Pelligrini told the judge.

In a videotaped police interview that was played during the trial, Schlemmer told the officer she had “crazy thoughts” in her head.

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When police arrived on the scene, they found the boys naked and dry, but their damp hair appeared to have been combed, officer Todd Ray said in his testimony. They were both unconscious. Luke died an hour later, while Daniel died several days later at a hospital. He never regained consciousness.

Prosecutors also introduced evidence that Schlemmer had run over the boys with her van the previous year. The boys’ injuries included a broken pelvis for Daniel, and an ankle fracture, jaw fracture, liver laceration and pancreatic injury for Luke. It was not immediately clear if the police or child welfare workers investigated the case at the time.

Schlemmer’s defense attorney, Michael Machen did not dispute his client’s actions, but called the case “very difficult” as he addressed the judge. “We need some more advocates for mental health or mental illness,” he said.

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In his verdict, judge Jeffery Manning wrote that he had “two possible verdicts: Guilty of First Degree Murder but Mentally Ill or Guilty of Third Degree Murder but Mentally Ill.” He also emphasized that either verdict would require Schlemmer to be provided with mental health treatment.

From the bench, Manning was stern as he addressed Schlemmer. “It is my fervent hope that in the future, mental health treatment will bring you, Ms. Schlemmer, to the shocking realization of what you have done so that you will continue to be punished far beyond any sentence this court might impose,” he said.

Ultimately, Manning decided to convict Schlemmer, 43, of “Third Degree Murder but Mentally Ill.” Under Pennsylvania law, she faces a maximum of 20 to 40 years in prison for each killing. She remains in the Allegheny County Jail until her sentencing on June 8.