North Hills mom who drowned 2 sons gets up to 80 years in prison
The North Hills mother who drowned two of her sons because she believed they'd be better off in heaven will spend 30 to 80 years in state prison, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Laurel Schlemmer, 44, of McCandless was sentenced to 15 to 40 years in prison for each murder.
Schlemmer confessed to drowning 6-year-old Daniel and 3-year-old Luke in a bathtub in April 2014. Allegheny County Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning found Schlemmer guilty but mentally ill in a March bench trial.
Schlemmer will not be eligible for parole until she is in her 70s, prompting Manning to describe the sentence handed down Wednesday as “a de facto life sentence, as it should be for taking two innocent lives.”
“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,” he said. “We, as a society, are left with punishment. And the punishments for murderers are decidedly severe.”
The boys' father, Mark Schlemmer, was among those attending Wednesday's sentencing. He did not speak in court or to reporters. Schlemmer's surviving son, Joshua, will be in his 30s when his mother is up for parole.
“No one could be more grieved than me,” Laurel Schlemmer, wearing a county jail-issued red jumpsuit and shackles, told the court. “I wish I could undo the harm I have caused and have our precious boys back, but I cannot fix the situation.”
Schlemmer thanked Manning for sending her to Torrance State Hospital immediately following the killings, saying she received psychiatric counseling and medication. She said she realized “the person who committed these acts was not me.”
On April 1, 2014, Schlemmer walked her oldest son Joshua to the bus and returned home. She said “crazy voices” told her to place Daniel and Luke in the tub one by one and hold their heads under water and sit on them.
Later, she took the boys out, dried them, combed their hair and arranged them on the bathroom floor. She hid her wet clothes in the garbage. Luke died that day, and Daniel died four days later at a hospital.
She later said in an interview with a forensic psychologist that drowning the boys “was the fastest way for them to get to heaven.”
Schlemmer rated her mental wellbeing at a “7 out of 10” in her last mental health assessment, defense attorney Michael Machen said.
Machen said there is still time for Schlemmer to be a productive member of society and that she is unlikely to commit another crime. Schlemmer, a graduate of North Allegheny High School and Grove City College, formerly taught at elementary and middle schools in the Fox Chapel Area School District.
In a series of letters all dated May 2016, Schlemmer's friends wrote to Manning seeking lenience and voiced support for Michelle, the middle name by which they knew her.
“Michelle is a true example of a Godly woman,” wrote Lynn Foy, who said she met Schlemmer in a Bible study group in 2013. “I remember her bringing her children to the child care there. She is a very devoted mother and I could tell that they were her first priority.”
Leanne Stolpe wrote that she remained in touch with Schlemmer after she was arrested. They exchanged letters.
“She continues to deal with the guilt and is extremely remorseful,” Stolpe wrote. “It is my humble plea that you take into account her kind nature and loving spirit.”
Assistant District Attorney Lisa Pellegrini was unmoved. She questioned Schlemmer's remorse.
“How could she be remorseful — a woman who murdered her children? How could she be a ‘7 out of 10?' ” Pellegrini said, referring to her assessment of her mental wellbeing.
Pellegrini, who asked for a minimum sentence of 40 years, said she was struck by the fact that no one spoke on behalf of the two dead boys at the sentencing or submitted a written impact statement on their behalf to the court.
After the sentencing, Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said he found it “almost inconceivable” that no one mentioned the boys' names during the sentencing.
“We lost two young boys as a result of this crime,” Manko said, addressing the media. “We will 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.”