PITTSBURGH – A Western Pennsylvania woman accused of drowning two of her sons in a bathtub was ordered Monday to a state mental hospital after a jail psychiatrist told a judge the defendant is mentally incompetent.
Dr. Christine Martone testified that Laurel Michelle Schlemmer is psychotic and suicidal and has a major depressive disorder. Schlemmer should be treated at Torrance State Hospital in Derry Township, about 45 miles east of Pittsburgh, before her condition is reviewed to determine if she can stand trial in the future, Martone said.
Judge Jeffrey Manning also issued a gag order in the case at the request of Schlemmer’s attorney, Michael Machen. That prevents anyone associated with the case from commenting on the competency finding, which can be reviewed in 90 days.
County detectives said Schlemmer, 40, of McCandless, told them she was fully clothed when she sat on the boys, Daniel, 6, and Luke, 3, to hold them underwater Tuesday morning after their 7-year-old brother left for school.
Among other things, Schlemmer told police she heard “crazy voices” telling her to submerge the boys and she believed she could be a better mother to her oldest son and that the younger boys would be “better off in heaven,” according to a police complaint.
In Pennsylvania, people are considered mentally competent to stand trial if they can distinguish between right and wrong and if they can assist their attorneys in their defense – even if their crime may have been fueled by delusions. So Schlemmer could eventually stand trial on criminal homicide and other charges even if she continues to maintain her behavior was fueled by the “crazy voices,” provided prosecutors can prove she still realized the consequences.
A preliminary hearing on the charges that was scheduled for Friday has been postponed indefinitely.
Luke died at UPMC Passavant Hospital, about a mile from the Schlemmer home, about an hour after his mother called 911 Tuesday. Daniel was on life support until Saturday, when he died at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
County prosecutors did not immediately amend the criminal charges against Schlemmer to add a second count of criminal homicide after Daniel died, but they are expected to do that eventually.
The Pennsylvania Department of Welfare is reviewing the drownings and the family’s contact with Allegheny County’s Office of Children, Youth and Families. The county agency first contacted the family last year, after Schlemmer backed her van into the same two boys, according to police and her pastor. The county office determined that was an accident after consulting with doctors and the police, according to DPW spokeswoman Kait Gillis.