The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a jury's rejection of an insanity defense in the case of a Fort Wayne woman who suffocated her 3-year-old son by forcing him to drink oil and vinegar because he was possessed by a demon.
The court's 17-page ruling was issued Thursday and involves Latisha Lawson, who was convicted of murder in May of 2011.
In its findings, the court noted that there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove Lawson was insane even though her actions were clearly bizarre.
Details in the court's opinion documented that Lawson gave birth to one child named K.K. in 2000 and another named J.K. in 2007. She lived with Lawrence King, the father of the two children, until October of 2009 when the two split up. King had known Lawson for 15-years and had never noticed any signs of a "profound mental illness." Also, Lawson had never received any mental health treatment.
After the split, Lawson and the two children moved in with Natasha Hawkins who had three kids of her own. Lawson then quit her job and began homeschooling K.K. People interviewed about their contact with Lawson during this time did not notice any signs of mental illness.
However, Lawson had began hitting K.K. with a belt and extension cords. She also began telling K.K. that J.K. was possessed by a demon. Lawson claimed that God had given her a plan to exorcise the demon which required her to force all of the children in the household to drink a combination of olive oil and vinegar or "blessed oil". Hawkins agreed to the plan.
On a day in November of 2009, all of the children were given the "blessed oil", which caused them to vomit. When J.K. fought against drinking the mixture, he was held down by both Hawkins and Lawson. In order to force J.K. to swallow the mixture, Lawson held her hand over his mouth for five to 10 minutes until he stopped breathing. Lawson told K.K. to say "bye" to J.K. She later claimed she expected the 3-year-old boy to come back to life.
J.K.'s body was placed on Hawkins bed for about a month while the two women continued to sleep in the bed next to it. The body was later moved to a closet and after K.K. noticed a bad smell coming from there, J.K.'s body was moved to a plastic bin.
In September of 2010, a Fort Wayne police officer went to the Hawkins-Lawson apartment to check on the well being of the children after Lawson's mother had voiced her concerns to the Department of Child Services. The officer didn't notice any signs of a mental illness and Lawson told the officer that J.K. was staying with an aunt.
In November of 2010, Lawson moved to the home of an acquaintance, taking the plastic bin with her. Then a short time later she moved into a home provided by a local pastor.
In Decmeber of 2010 when police came to check on the welfar of the children, Hawkins told officers that a child had been killed in her apartment a year earlier and that the boy had been placed in a plastic bin. After police located Lawson, she initially told them J.K. had been adopted. But she then changed her story by saying the child had been possessed. After Lawson consented to a search, police found J.K.'s partially mummified body in a plastic bag.
In January of 2011, Lawson was charged with murder. She filed a notice that she planned to use an insanity defense. During her trial, two doctors testified that Lawson was able to determine right from wrong.
Lawson argued that the testimony should be disregarded based upon a previous case.
The appeals court ruled that Lawson's behavior in this case admittedly was highly bizarre. Her actions concerning the "exorcism" and retention of J.K.'s body thereafter were confirmed by three independent eyewitnesses. The court noted that the supreme court has affirmed the rejection of an insanity defense even "where the crimes appear to have been completely irrational. "
To read the entire court ruling, click here.
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