Psychiatrists testify in McCandless woman's drowning trial

Two psychiatrists testified this morning that the McCandless woman who drowned her two sons three years ago has anxiety disorder, depression and has had dissociative episodes. 

They also said that the root of Laurel Michelle Schlemmer’s anxiety was her concerns -— unfounded -— that her two youngest sons, Luke, 3, and Daniel, 6, were autistic and would be unable to function in society.

She thought “they were doomed to their futures being impaired and forever be dependent upon her and her husband,” said Dr. Robert Wettstein, a psychiatrist who testified on behalf of the defense. 

“The defendant thought she should be able to handle this if she was an ideal, Christian, loyal mother,” he said. “She felt overwhelmed and desperate about them.” 

Ms. Schlemmer is on trial this week before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning on charges of criminal homicide, endangering the welfare of children and tampering with evidence. Police said she drowned her two sons on April 1, 2014, while her husband was at work and their oldest son was at school. A year earlier, testimony has shown, Ms. Schlemmer tied her two sons’ hands and feet together, placed them behind the tires of her minivan and drove over them three separate times.

They were injured and hospitalized for four days. She claimed it was an accident to police and medical personnel at the time, and no charges were ever filed. 

However, she told the psychiatrists who interviewed her that her actions were purposeful. 

She is asserting a mental health defense -—that she was incapable of forming the intent to kill. 

When Ms. Schlemmer killed the boys in the family bathtub, she thought she was doing it for them, Dr. Wettstein testified. 

“She thought it would be better for them if they went to heaven,” he said. “This was a plan for them in their best interest.” 

Dr. Wettstein told Judge Manning that at the time she killed her sons, Ms. Schlemmer’s cognitive function was impaired, which would diminish her ability to premeditate.

He noted, though, that she was not experiencing psychosis.

“She knew she was killing her boys in April 2014. She knew she was trying to kill them in April 2013,” Dr. Wettstein said. “She knew she was doing something wrong, but she thought it was in their best interest to do it.” 

As Dr. Wettstein spoke those words, Ms. Schlemmer sat at the defense table shaking her head. 

Paula Reed Ward:, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. 

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