A mentally ill mother who threw her three children to their deaths off a San Francisco pier last October thought she was sending them to heaven, her attorney argued in closing statements Wednesday. But the prosecution said that whatever her motivation, the act was still murder.
Attorneys argued intent during closing arguments Wednesday at the trial of LaShuan Harris, 24, who pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the deaths of her children. Her attorney, Theresa Caffese, argued Wednesday that Harris, who has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, wanted to send the children to live in heaven, which she thinks of as a geographical place in which the children are still alive.
Prosecutor Linda Allen said that, even though Harris is mentally ill, she made a conscious decision to kill the children, knowing that death was a necessary step before they went to heaven. "She never said she thought they would be magically transported [to heaven]. She said they would drown," Allen said.
Harris has not denied throwing Trayshawn Harris, 6, Taronta Greely, 2, and Joshua Greely, 16 months, over the railing of Pier 7 on Oct. 19, 2005. She faces three murder charges as well as three charges of assault on a child under 8 causing death.
During the trial, a cadre of psychologists and psychiatrists called by both the prosecution and defense testified that Harris is schizophrenic and prone to hallucinations. "She had been suffering from it before, during and after" the incident, said court-appointed psychologist Paul Good, whose statement that the schizophrenia caused Harris to kill her children was stricken from the record as conjecture.
"It doesn’t matter how we got here," Allen said Wednesday. "When a mother intentionally kills her children, it’s murder."
Earlier in the trial, the eight-man, four-woman jury saw a tape of Harris’ initial interview with police inspectors, in which she claims God asked her for a sacrifice, and she threw her children into the water instead of herself, knowing they would drown. "I guess it’s murder," Harris said at the end of that interview.
The very same act that Allen referred to as murder, Caffese cited as evidence that Harris was delusional.
"The conduct confirms the delusion, because a mother doesn’t kill her kids unless she’s crazy, absent some other motivation," Caffese said. Much of Caffese’s evidence over the course of the trial was meant to demonstrate that Harris was a devoted mother who would have no motivation to do her children harm.
The jury is expected to begin deliberating Harris’ guilt today. If she is found guilty, the trial will go into a second phase, in which the jury will determine whether she was mentally fit enough to take responsibility for her actions.