Pittsburgh woman who drowned sons sentenced to 80 years

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, 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

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

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

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' 

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'

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 

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

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.

LETTERS BEG FOR LENIENCY

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

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