The same mental health experts who testified last month that Chelsea Thornton was legally insane when she killed her two children in a Gert Town apartment in 2012 said Thursday that she was competent when she confessed about it to police later that day after a trip to the hospital.
The conclusion by a pair of defense-hired forensic psychiatrists, Dr. James McConville and Dr. Sarah Deland, came in a brief hearing Thursday in a case in which Thornton stands charged with two counts of first-degree murder.
Thornton, 25, is accused of fatally shooting her 3-year-old son, Kendall, and then drowning his sister, 4-year-old Kelsey, in the bathtub after the gun jammed in their apartment in the 3300 block of Audubon Court on Oct. 17, 2012.
Her attorney, Lionel “Lon” Burns, said the conclusion by the doctors was perfunctory because he wasn’t really fighting to suppress the confession. Last month, however, Burns told The New Orleans Advocate, “Obviously, if she was insane at the time of the offense, she was insane at the time of the confession.”
On Thursday, Burns said the confession can only help a jury to conclude that Thornton is not guilty by reason of insanity.
“I actually want the confession. The confession allows the true picture of what she did when she was suffering from her mental illness,” Burns said. “Anytime you have a mother who kills her own children, obviously she has a defect.”
Criminal District Court Judge Robin Pittman last year decided Thornton was competent to stand trial in the case after spending months in a state hospital. That issue — whether she can assist in her defense — is separate from whether she knew right from wrong when she shot her children.
McConville testified last month that Thornton was despondent the day of the killings, never tried to hide what she did and confessed after going to the hospital.
Deland said the evidence showed Thornton was “almost getting catatonic” and believed she was sparing her children misery. She later tried haphazardly to kill herself.
“She feared for their future and thought going to heaven was the best thing for them,” Deland testified last month.
Thornton could face the death penalty if she’s found guilty. It will be up to a jury, or a judge in the case of a bench trial, to determine her mental state at the time of the killings.
Pittman did not rule Thursday on the admissibility of Thornton’s confession, instead setting an Oct. 23 date to hear from police and other witnesses.
Thornton remains jailed in Orleans Parish Prison, where she was first booked two years ago Saturday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.