Laurel Schlemmer, 43, of McCandless, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to XX on Wednesday, for drowning her two sons, Luke, three and Daniel, six, in April 2014.
A suburban Pittsburgh woman who drowned her two youngest children in a bathtub because she believed they would be better off in heaven will spend 30 to 80 years in prison, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Laurel Schlemmer, 43, was found mentally ill and guilty of third-degree murder for drowning her two youngest sons, Daniel, six, and Luke, three, in 2014
Laurel Schlemmer, 43, killed her sons Luke, three, and Daniel, six, April 1, 2014 in the family's McCandless home, about 10 miles north Pittsburgh.
During a recorded confession that day, she told Allegheny County Police homicide investigators that 'crazy voices were prompting me to act irrationally.'
Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who presided over Schlemmer's three-day trial in March, found her guilty but mentally ill on two counts of third-degree murder; guilty of two counts of child endangerment; and guilty of tampering with evidence.
Manning sentenced her to 15 to 40 years for each murder conviction, to run consecutively, and 2 ½ to 5 years for each child endangerment conviction, to run concurrently with the murder sentences. Manning issued no further punishment for the tampering with evidence charge.
On Wednesday, Laurel Schlemmer was sentenced to 30 to 80 years in prison for drowning two of her sons
Mark Schlemmer, the husband of Laurel Michelle Schlemmer, who killed their six-year-old son Daniel and three-year-old son Luke in their McCandless, Pennsylvania, home in April 2014 so she could 'get them to heaven' walks out of the Allegheny County Courthouse after his wife's sentencing on Wednesday
Psychiatrists for the prosecution and defense testified that Schlemmer (with husband Mark Schlemmer) became concerned that her two youngest sons (pictured) were autistic and would never grow up normally, even though tests showed no signs of the mental condition
'Perhaps in the years to come, her remaining child, her husband, her mother and her father and others will forgive her, but the court is not in the forgiveness business,' Manning said during the sentencing hearing. '… We as a society are left with punishment. And the punishments for murderers are decidedly severe. What will be imposed this day, we refer to as a defacto life sentence. As it should be, for taking two innocent lives.'
Schlemmer and her attorney asked for a light sentence.
They argued that society has a mental health crisis that prevents people like Schlemmer from finding help before it is too late. In prison, they said, Schlemmer has shown significant improvement and is committed to working on her mental health.
'I fully accept responsibility for this tragedy I have caused,' Schlemmer said. 'I wish with all of my heart that I could undo the harm I have caused and have our precious boys back. It tears me up every day.'
Only after learning that she was mentally ill did she begin to forgive herself, Schlemmer said. 'The person who committed those acts was not the real me,' she said.
She said she hopes to contribute to society again, including caring for her family and participating in adult literacy programs. And she said she loves her boys, 'here and in heaven.'
Not once did she mention her dead boys by name.
'It's almost inconceivable their names were not mentioned,' District Attorney's Office spokesman Mike Manko said after the sentencing. 'We'll never know what they could have amounted to, what they could have accomplished, and what wonderful lives they probably would have led if not for the actions of this defendant. I think it's important to understand that there are two boys – Daniel and Luke Schlemmer -- who are no longer with us as a result of this crime.'
Mark Schlemmer, the boys' father, sat in the front row of the courtroom behind his wife. He showed no emotion during the hearing and often stared at the ground. He did not speak to reporters, nor did any friends or family.
Schlemmer a former school teacher, has a history of mental illness dating back to the sixth grade. And she tried to kill her sons before succeeding in 2014, evidence and testimony revealed.
In 2009, Schlemmer left Daniel, then two-years-old, in a hot car at Ross Park Mall north of the city.
Police responded before Daniel was harmed and cited Schlemmer with a summary offense. She pleaded guilty.
When she was initially arrested in 2014, the mother-of-three told homicide investigators that 'crazy voices were prompting me to act irrationally'
Schlemmer drowned her two youngest sons in her home's bathtub (pictured) after sending her oldest to school. In her recorded confession, she told police: 'I, uh, changed clothes and, um, and I got in there with them and held them under water'
In 2013, Schlemmer tied up Luke and Daniel in the driveway of her parents' home, then backed over them with her vehicle multiple times.
The boys were hospitalized at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC for several days. Daniel suffered a fractured pelvis. Luke had a broken jaw, broken ankle, lacerated liver and injuries to his pancreas, hospital officials testified.
Schlemmer told investigators she did not know the boys were outside. Police ruled it an accident.
Schlemmer later admitted to her husband, Mark Schlemmer, that she had run over the boys intentionally. Yet, Mark did not call police and continued to allow his wife to be alone with the children, he testified.
Four days before Schlemmer succeeded in killing Luke and Daniel, she called her husband at work and said she wanted to confess to police. He told her not to call police.
'I'm a sinner,' Schlemmer said in an interview with county police. 'My son is dead and I could have prevented it.'
'You could have prevented all of this, couldn't you?' Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini said to Mark Schlemmer during his testimony.
Michael Machen, Schlemmer's defense attorney, objected to the question and Mark Schlemmer did not answer.
Mark Schlemmer, who attended two days of the trial, declined comment after the hearing. He is not facing charges.
'We don't feel we could sustain our burden of proof on any charges against him,' said Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Steven A. Zappala Jr.
The Schlemmers' surviving son, Joshua, lives with Mark Schlemmer.
Prior to their deaths in 2014, Schlemmer had tried to kill the two younger boys in 2009, and again in 2013 by leaving them in a hot car and running them over with her vehicle
On the day of the murders, Schlemmer told investigators, she put Joshua on the school bus, walked back to the house on Saratoga Drive, filled the bathtub and told the boys to undress
Schlemmer believed Luke and Daniel had autism, though multiple tests proved otherwise, and that killing the boys would allow them entry to heaven.
The Schlemmers are devout Christians who met through a religious online dating site. They attended Grove City College, a religious institution 60 miles north of Pittsburgh, and worshiped at North Park Church in Pittsburgh's North Hills.
Their former pastor, Dan Hendley, said members of his congregation counselled the Schlemmers after the boys were injured in 2013, but no one realized the extent of Schlemmer's mental illness.
Several friends of Schlemmer, acting as character witnesses, wrote letters to Judge Manning asking for a lenient sentence. In referring to Schlemmer, they used her middle name, Michelle, as did most of her friends and family.
Among the character witnesses was John Ragen, a former classmate at Grove City College, who compared Schlemmer's crimes to those of women who get abortions.
'The part that I struggle with the most is that we have thousands of women each week taking the lives of their babies through the act of abortion and there are no legal ramifications to this action,' Ragan wrote in a typed letter dated May 10, 2016. 'I consider it similar to what Michelle has done. … The biggest difference is that society has decided to consider one way more onerous than the other. One is severely punished and the other not at all.'
Lynn Foy, who met through Schlemmer in 2013 through bible study, called Schlemmer 'a true example of a Godly woman.'
'I have prayed for her every day since her arrest and will pray until I can see her reunited with her husband and son,' Foy wrote.
Angela Dickinson, Schlemmer's roommate at Grove City College, described Schlemmer as 'a kind, caring and loving person (who) loved being a mother.'
'In a phone conversation several months before the tragedy on April 1, 2014, Michelle and I discussed the pros and cons of providing electronic devices such as iPads, iPods, or Kindles for our children,' Dickinson wrote. 'She was thinking through what might be best for her boys and wanted my opinion before she and her husband made a decision for her children. Her love of her children and her training as a teacher drove her to seek the best for her family.'
Former Grove City College classmate Karen Bolumen, who owns a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, recalled the last time she saw Schlemmer, in July, 2009. Both women were pregnant.
'I remember how excited we both were about the pregnancies and that we were both expecting boys,' Bolumen wrote. '… The only explanation for such a tragedy is that she suffered severely from mental illness. She would never hurt anyone in any way, especially her own children, if she could help it.'
Many friends, including Amy Campbell, of Oak Hill, Va., said they knew Schlemmer was struggling with mental illness, but were unaware its severity.
'She had many stressors in caring for her children and her mother, but I had no idea of how much it was taking a toll on her because she did not complain, nor did she share her deep struggles,' Campbell wrote. '… She recently shared with me in a letter that at that time she was experiencing much anxiety and sleep deprivation.'
Elaine Darville attended North Park Church with Schlemmer.
'I know she struggled on and off with sleep and depression issues (but) I was not aware of the extent of her illness,' Darville wrote. 'I never realized they went beyond the typical 'mom worries and struggles' that I myself have faced. I see in her letters since this event a genuine sense of sorrow over what she has done.'
'On that fateful day, April 1, 2014, she succeeded in what she had been trying to do all those years,' Pellegrini said during the trial.
'This was a systematic failure of the father, the family, their church and CYF to protect them.'
Schlemmer suffered from anxiety, depression and bouts of dissociation. She tried medications throughout her adult years, often over the objections of her husband who preferred treatments that leaned on meditation and the repetition of Bible verses.
'Mark and I were not on the same page regarding medication,' Schlemmer told forensic psychiatrist Bruce Wright. 'It was a little bit of a tug of war.'
The couple also argued over birth control, which went against Mark Schlemmer's religious beliefs. Laurel had three miscarriages, the last one in 2012.
Spiritual adviser: Pastor Dan Hendley (left), who has known the Schlemmers for years, said the family appeared to be doing very well after the mother backed over her sons with her van
On the day of the murders, Schlemmer told investigators, she put Joshua on the school bus, walked back to the house on Saratoga Drive, filled the bathtub and told the boys to undress.
'They got in the bathtub and, um, these crazy voices were prompting me to act irrationally,' Schlemmer said in her recorded confession.
'I, uh, changed clothes and, um, and I got in there with them and held them under water. And I felt like I was looking down on the whole thing, just kind of out of body, and then I freaked out and then got out (and) changed my clothes and got them out.'
Daniel was wearing Spider-Man pajamas, and Luke wore Superman pajamas. She drowned Daniel first, then Luke.
Investigators found vomit on Luke's pajamas, Pellegrini said, leading investigators to believe that he witnessed his brother's murder and became so terrified that he threw up his breakfast.
In a recorded 911 call, Schlemmer told a dispatcher that she had let her boys play in the tub while she went to the bathroom, then found them unconscious in the tub.
Asked if the boys were breathing, she said: 'It doesn't look like it, sir.'
After the dispatcher told her to kneel next to the boys and check their mouths for food or vomit, Schlemmer's parents arrived at the house.
'I'm scared mom,' she said. 'Is dad still here?'
To a paramedic, she said, 'I've got an emergency. Upstairs.'
Seconds later came repeated slapping noises and a paramedic yelling: 'Breath!'
Daniel survived for four days on life support at Children's Hospital. Luke died that day.
During the trial, Schlemmer lowered her head and wept when multiple photos of her dead sons were admitted as evidence and projected on a screen
During the trial, Schlemmer was delayed after Manning ruled her mentally incompetent, Schlemmer sat mostly in silence next to her attorney.
Despite her wrists being shackled, she took notes on a yellow legal pad and repeatedly whispered into her attorney's ear.
She answered Judge Manning in a meek voice when he questioned whether she was fit to stand trial. Schlemmer said was being treated with Vistaril, a sedative that treats anxiety, at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County.
When multiple photos of her dead sons were admitted as evidence and projected on a screen, she lowered her head and wept.
The photos revealed the boys' injuries, including bruises on their knees, scratch wounds on their scalps, and teeth marks suggesting one of the boys bit his tongue while being drowned.
Most people at the trial tried not to look at the screen. Many of those who did look immediately covered their eyes with their hands; one member of the media left the courtroom in tears.
During a recess, Schlemmer looked up at the screen where a photo of Luke's dead body remained.
Schlemmer suffered from anxiety, depression and bouts of dissociation. She tried medications throughout her adult years, often over the objections of her husband who preferred treatments that leaned on meditation and the repetition of Bible verses. Pictured: Schlemmer's family home
She asked Pellegrini to turn off the projector, and the prosecutor did so.
'Thank you very much,' Schlemmer said quietly.
Defense attorney Machen did not contest his client's guilt.
'Of all the cases I've been involved in,' he said during his closing argument, 'this may have the greatest sadness.'
Machen used a mental infirmity defense, arguing that Schlemmer should be found guilty of third-degree murder rather than first-degree murder -- which carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole -- or not guilty by reason of insanity.
'This is not a whodunit,' Machen said. 'But Laurel Schlemmer was suffering from a mental disorder.'
Schlemmer waived her right to a jury trial, leaving Manning to decide the case.
In delivering his guilty verdict in March, Manning spoke to Schlemmer directly:
'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.'Read more at dailymail.co.uk