Andrea Yates: Not Guilty

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Flying in the face of my past advice, the Texas jury in Andrea Yates' second trial for drowning 3 of her 5 kids she drowned (the prosecution was holding the other two in reserve for possible future prosecution) acquits by reason of insanity.

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  1. “reason of insanity”

    Isn’t it neat the way the words reason and insanity just seem to go together.

  2. You did it, or you didn’t. Use sentencing to sort out the crazy or not part. Don’t say that killing your children doesn’t matter.

  3. Nobody who commits a murder can be considered wholly sane. Yates committed a particularly heinous crime, and should have received a particularly heinous punishment.

    Hopefully, her next trial will result in a greater measure of justice.

  4. If there were ever a case for the insanity defense, Andrea Yates is it. She had been hospitalized at least twice and was taking more than the recommended dose of one of the most powerful anti-hallicinatory drugs prescribed as recently as six weeks before the crime. It’s not just that she was depressed, she was actually having hallucinations. Also, she’s going to spend the rest of her life in a Texas state mental hospital, likely the home for the criminally insane in Rusk. Don’t think she’s getting away with anything.

    And for what it’s worth, why did Rusty get off? He left his kids with a clearly incapacitated caregiver. He could be prosecuted for neglect if that caregiver had been any other person on the planet who exhibited Andrea’s symptoms. Remember the doctor in Boston who left her baby with the British au pair who killed him? I don’t recall the public being especially lenient toward her, and the au pair wasn’t on anti-psychotic meds.

  5. Nobody who commits a murder can be considered wholly sane.

    I think many can simply be extremely callous or greedy. Yates was batshit, though.

  6. Could have saved the taxpayers a lot of money by hanging her after the confession.

  7. The law usually requires a guilty state of mind in order to meet the definition of the crime (mens rea). That’s why we have the whole “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict. If there’s no criminal intent, there’s no crime (leaving aside crimes of negligence and strict liability). In the end, Karen has a point: Yates will spend decades at a mental institution. She won’t just go free and promise to take her meds.

  8. I guess that means that her children weren’t “murdered”; so can someone then explain how they’re dead? Do we now resort to that wonderful British legalism “unlawfully killed”? I’m much more comfortable with the States that have a “Guilty, but Insane” sentencing-option.

  9. Lamar is right. Guilt here implies the desire to do harm. Does anybody seriously believe this woman was anything but completely nuts to undertake this horrible act against her own children?

  10. Karen:

    “And for what it’s worth, why did Rusty get off? He left his kids with a clearly incapacitated caregiver. He could be prosecuted for neglect if that caregiver had been any other person on the planet who exhibited Andrea’s symptoms.”

    Seriously. For a rocket scientist, his behavior was really very stupid. Yates had problems with post-partem depression after all of her kids’ births, as I recall. She had no business getting knocked up 5 times in 8 years, and he is probably more than 50% responsible for it given her state of mind. And you’re right, he could have been prosecuted had she not been his wife. What an idiot.

  11. And for what it’s worth, why did Rusty get off?

    This idea that women should not be responsible for their actions is a throwback to the days when women were not considered human enough to know what they were doing. Saying the husband should be liable for the wife’s actions is telling.

    Remember the doctor in Boston who left her baby with the British au pair who killed him? I don’t recall the public being especially lenient toward her, and the au pair wasn’t on anti-psychotic meds.

    You’re mixing legal liability with public sentiment. Rusty hasn’t gotten off easy in the press, but will not be prosecuted for the actions of others, same as in the au pair case.

  12. I’m trying to figure out how in the heck the whole “let’s hold two killings in reserve” thing works. Shouldn’t Yates be able to use collateral estoppel to knock out those charges in the future?

  13. In general, I think that the insanity defense is inappropriate. In this case, I think it’s justified. If it’s EVER justified, it’s in a case such as this. If Yates had killed her kids and tried to hide the fact (such as with Susan Smith), it would have been clear that she knew it was the wrong thing to do. The fact that she killed them and then called the police to the house, calmly admitting everything, is pretty strong evidence to me that she was truly insane.

    I think the verdict should be “guilty but insane” (and hence not culpable in the normal sense) instead of “not guilty because of insanity.” Legal punishment for crimes is supposed to deter other crime. Punishing Yates by having the state pay for her upkeep in prison for the rest of her life clearly wouldn’t deter other insane people from taking similar actions.

  14. If I recall correctly, her psychiatrist recomended against having further kids. If there’s any evidence that he pressured her to do so, for religious reasons or not, he’s contributory in his negligence at the very least. I’d say that was manslaughter, just as much as driving drunk.

    I have some sympathy for the ‘guilty but insane’ verdict. Clearly there’s a difference between a robber who kills the family to leave no witnesses, and someone who’s hallucinating and whose mind may truly be unable to differentiate between reality and madness. A mandated treatment schedule, parole contingent on not having more kids, and staying on her treatment schedule. She violates that parole, she goes to jail.

    That said, she’s not blameless even if she couldn’t have stopped herself in the final act, because SHE got told that she couldn’t handle having more kids, too, and she did it anyway.

  15. I’ve gone back and forth over whether I think she deserves a guilty or not guilty/insanity verdict. My initial feeling was that she is guilty. And I think some of her actions as described in the linked article show that she understood what she was doing was against the law. But I do think she needs to be in a psychiatric facility and I do think her ex-husband has culpability. Seeing him with that weird little smile on his face as he reacted to the new verdict…ugh. That man doesn’t deserve to smile. There doesn’t seem to be any question about his sanity but he certainly contributed to letting the situation continue and even escalate.

  16. Woman who kills five kids: insane.
    Man who kills five kids: sicko.

    Insane people can be treated. Sickos are put to death.

  17. I’m with the “guilty but insane” verdict, too. There has to be something for people who’s brains just don’t work right. There was a guy in Ft. Worth, I think, who got the death penalty for killing a neighbor in a burglary, despite mountains of evidence that he was psychotic and his family had tried everything but bribery to get him committed permanently. He deserved as much leniency as Andrea Yates.

    And, again, for what little it’s worth, I think Susan Smith should have gotten the death penalty. She was the coldest-blooded of murderers, yet she was pretty and blonde and I suppose that counts for a lot where she lived.

  18. Seems to me the jury doesn’t understand the difference between “not guilty for reasons of insanity” and “extenuating circumstances.”

    There is a huge difference between being depressed and being insane. Schizophrenia is something else–if you really do have voices telling you to push a young wome in front of an oncoming subway, you probably do qualify as incapable of distinguishing right from wrong.

  19. The Star-Telegram ran a chronology of events concerning Andrea Yates. Find it here at http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/state/15127785.htm.

    Also, I’ve read that everytime they get enough meds in her to stabilize her, the minute she realizes what she did, she decompensates and crawls back down the madness hole.

    I’ve seen a lot in the mental health department and I’m not one toput a whole lot of faith in insanity pleas and I don’t buy into things like repressed memories or multiple personalities. But in this case the lady was sadly crazy as they come. She belongs in an institution.

  20. “the minute she realizes what she did, she decompensates and crawls back down the madness hole.”

    I bet. Simply reading a description of what she did makes me feel sick in the head. I sure am glad I don’t have to remember doing it.

    “And, again, for what little it’s worth, I think Susan Smith should have gotten the death penalty. She was the coldest-blooded of murderers, yet she was pretty and blonde and I suppose that counts for a lot where she lived.”

    Yeah. One would think that cold-bloodedly murdering your children in South Carolina would be enough to draw the death penalty. I’m from that state, with roots in the Union area, and I don’t understand how she got out of the death penalty.

  21. I checked out the Wikipedia entry on Andrea Yates. Read about her husband’s “spiritual mentor”, Michael Peter Woroniecki.

    Combine him with a schizophrenic mother and you’d think this thing was almost waiting to happen.

    DISCLOSURE: The entry features a nuetrality dispute. I read the talk page. Facts don’t appear to be in dispute.

    Find it here at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rusty_Yates

  22. I heard that she will send the rest of her life in a mental institution. That, IMO, is as harsh or harsher than a conventional prison sentence she might receive for a guilty verdict. Being in a mental insitution is certainly imprisonment. Often those found not guilty due to insanity are locked up longer than the guilty sentence.

  23. Wow. Thanks for posting. I followed the link to the page on Woroniecki. What a despicable man.

  24. The idea of holding back the deaths of two other children for future prosecution, if that is in fact the case, seems bogus. If the defendant’s mental state was the only disputed issue at this trial, a future trial of that issue is barred by constitutional prohibitions of double jeopardy.

    For example, Ashe v. Swenson involved an armed robbery of a six-person poker game. The defendant was tried for robbery of one of the victims and found not guilty. Six weeks later, this same defendant was tried and convicted of robbing another player in the same incident. The U. S. Supreme Court eventually held that since the single rationally conceivable issue in dispute before the jury was whether the defendant had been one of the robbers, the guaranty against double jeopardy made the second trial impermissible.

  25. Check out some of the links to CounterCult.com’s page on him as well as some former “disciples” at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry. The man’s going to hell in a luxury RV, from what I can tell.

    Guy’s a sick piece of work. I’m also further convinced of Rusty Yate’s ignorant complicity as well.

  26. I hear she wants to work in day care when she gets out.

  27. I just read the Woroniecki link. Words really fail to describe what a creep he is.

    I was pregnant with my second son when this happened, and returned from maternity leave about a week after the intial verdict.

    I had pretty bad postpartum depression with my first son and a difficult pregnancy with my second one. I remember when Andy was a baby going around the house and making a deal with myself that I would NOT kill myself before 2 p.m. each day because at 2:00 I would meet a friend to go swimming at the Y. I wouldn’t commit suicide in front of Leslie because it would be rude. It sounds quite as crazy as it felt, but that is pretty much exactly how I got through it. Drugs didn’t help because I apparently have weird biochemistry. I just got over it. It makes my skin crawl to think what might have happened if I’d had this Woroniecki around. Ugh. I think I’m going to give my sons hugs. Lots of hugs.

  28. The jury has rendered a verdict and I’m not going to second-guess it.
    Knowing how the media often misrepresents things, I am not going to rely on them for my information.
    The prosecution is keeping a back-door open, hell bent on a conviction, the defense’s job is to raise doubts, no good info here either.

    Brian, I totally disagree with your article you linked to. Can you really not imagine that anybody at all is mentally ill? Can you not understand that someone who is sick, can’t be responsible? Who do you think is being served when a sick person is nothing but punished, because that what it amounts to? The prisons are already full of clearly deranged, sick people, whom they are ill equipped to deal with. We as a society have chosen to turn a blind eye to that fact. If you don’t believe that, I challenge you to visit a prison and see for yourself as I have. Out of sight, out of mind. How that approach represents something like 21st century justice, escapes me.
    We, as humans, often claim to be oh so enlightened and far more knowledgeable than our ancestors. If that is the case then what happened to the humanity of those who scream for punishment, more punishment? Can you really not imagine that “there for the grace of God, go I”? Is it so hard to imagine that you could turn mentally ill? Or someone you know and love?
    People apparently want it both ways too. That’s why some, convicted of certain sex offenses and having done the time, can be locked up in an institution forever. Without trial. At the whim of psychiatrists. They are responsible enough to do time, but when the time is up they are declared not in control of themselves.
    I hope Andrea Yates is sent to a place where she can get genuine help for her troubled soul, not just punishment under a different name. She is sick. In dubio pro reo!
    May her poor children rest in peace.

  29. I don’t like the insanity defense, and here’s why. I was raised by a mother who spoiled me like crazy. I was unable to care for myself and everybody thought I was “slow”. I got sent to bootcamp after a while and its amazing how competent I’ve been at life ever since.

    What’s the point of the story? You never know enough about what’s going on in a person’s head or what they’re capable of. Since scientific minded people don’t really believe in “free will” our criminal justice system’s main function is as a deterent. Do we really know who can be detered and who can’t? And isn’t every action the result of our genetic makeup and our past experiences anyway?

    Death to the insanity defense.

  30. Her acts were horrible. Her children…I can’t even say anything. It just kills me to think about it. I don’t know what’s wrong, or what happened.

    But: she did offer a religious belief as her … not defense…. but explanation.

    Question is: why is this a crime, and not religious expression? In the Bible, God told Abraham to kill Isaac. How is this different? Do we believe this bullshit or don’t we? Take a fucking stand. If you believe in the Bible, then stand up for Andrea Yates and defend this shit.

    What say you America? Is the Bible only real when it’s made-up, er… historical….. people doing the killing?

    For that matter, when Lot fucked his own daughters… ah never mind…

  31. Mad animals are put down. Think of it as self-domestication. You can only deter the sane. You will also have the small percentage of stone cold killers and the people with a head full of bad wiring. The killers may be rational but probably can’t be reasoned with.

    It’s a shame the seven year old didn’t have a gun. I’d rather he have to live with shooting mom. Then for her to have to live with drowning all her kids.

  32. That’s a pretty unenlightened view of things, Grand Chalupa.

    Since scientific minded people don’t really believe in “free will”…

    Where’d you get that one? I don’t think you can indict the entire community of “scientific minded people” based on your prejudices. Lot’s of scientific minded people believe in free will. But most would also tell you that free will pretty much is limited to you and how you choose to interperet what you experience. Even your actions are limited largely by your perceptions and how much liberty you have.

    …our criminal justice system’s main function is as a deterent.

    Wrong…my proof, of course, being that we have one of the largest prison populations per capita in the entire world (including many 3rd world despotic regimes)so obviously our prisons aren’t much of a deterrent. In the U.S. our prisons are largely for punishment with occassional opportunities for reform and retraining. They, in fact, deter very few.

    Do we really know who can be detered and who can’t?

    According to your earlier sentence, we don’t, although personally, I have faith that when good science is applied well, it’s certainly possible to be reasonably accurate much of the time. In this case, good science was trumped by ignorance.

    And isn’t every action the result of our genetic makeup and our past experiences anyway?

    Depends on who you ask, although I’m inclined to agree with you there. Although read strictly, your own statement might indicate free will doesn’t exist. As for poor Mrs. Yates, her madness is arguably the result of a combination of genetic makeup predisposing her to scizophrenia and past experiences with a moron husband and a psycho “spiritual advisor.”

    Ultimately, for a large majority of folks on this blessed planet, you are probably correct in your judgement. For a (thank God) much smaller minority of people – including Andrea Yates – IMHO, you’re wrong.

  33. For that matter, when Lot fucked his own daughters… ah never mind…

    Actually, his daughters fucked him. He was drunk and unconcious at the time.

  34. Sorry Karen, No Sale. Gimme Back My Dog, et al is right.

    I am particularly sensitive to that issue because my old friend Dennis Dabney went to jail for several months because his wife killed their baby. The cops said he should have known she was systematically abusing the boy (but not his twin brother). His wife? She got a year.

    Rusty may be a jerk but he most certainly did not systematically murder five innocent children. And really, in a libertarian world don’t we expect people to stand tall for the consequences of their actions?

    Just try for a moment to imagine how sympathetic any jury would have been if Rusty was the accused.

  35. If free will doesn’t exist than libertarianism is a pointless exercise in futility.

  36. Once again, Texas disproves the prevailing wisdom that everybody goes to the gallows in Texas

  37. Martin: mentally ill and clinically insane are not the same thing. By your definition, a heck of a lot of premeditated rapists would be off the hook. She obviously knew the difference between right and wrong because after she offed her kids she called 911 and asked the cops to arrest her.

    Now, I do wonder what woman was tasteless enough to marry Yate’s ex-husband, who is such a well-established creep, but that’s another story.

    As for “self-ordained” ministers who lead several of their flock to attempt suicide, I’d say the right punishment is community-enforced exile, what used to be called getting run out of town on a rail.

  38. For that matter, when Lot fucked his own daughters… ah never mind…

    Not being very scripture-literate I would have taken this at face value, but ….

    Actually, his daughters fucked him. He was drunk and unconcious at the time.

    I read up on it and indeed the scripture is unequivocal beyond a reasonable doubt. Lot’s girls conspired knowingly and willingly to trick him into committing incest.
    Wonder what a 21st century American society would make of that if it went to trial in a he said-they said confrontation. I have little doubt it would be: Punish the old predator!

  39. Mac,
    By your definition, a heck of a lot of premeditated rapists would be off the hook.

    I’m sorry, but i don’t get it. Isn’t the definition of premeditation that one understands the act one is premeditating and it’s consequences?

    Now, I do wonder what woman was tasteless enough to marry Yate’s ex-husband, who is such a well-established creep, but that’s another story.

    You can have an opinion as to who is tasteless and who is a creep. But I don’t see it as a story except for the likes of Jerry Springer. Other than that it is their private business.

    As for “self-ordained” ministers who lead several of their flock to attempt suicide, I’d say the right punishment is community-enforced exile, what used to be called getting run out of town on a rail.

    On the theory the the weak-of-mind need to be protected, you have a point. However, they could also be hot contenders for the Darwin awards.

    And, of course, we have that old punishment thing again. Like in “Beware of those in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.”

  40. Does anybody seriously believe this woman was anything but completely nuts to undertake this horrible act against her own children?

    The only reason you think she’s nuts is because you think women can’t be evil, and you’re joined by the nutcases who want to make the kid’s father responsible. Does anybody seriously believe that given these same facts, a man would ever have been considered “nuts”? No, men who do these things are evil in the eyes of nearly any jury. They don’t get kindness or understanding, they just get death sentences, and the jury doesn’t spend a few days thinking about it.

  41. I’m fascinated by the Andrea Yates case, because when I was a medical student, I had a patient on the psychiatry wards who suffered from severe postpartum depression with psychosis. She drove her two children to the top of a mountain with the intention of pushing them off the edge. Just as she was about to committ the deed, she heard the voice of God telling her to stop.

    When I talked with her about her motivation, she explained that she was afraid when her children grew up, they might die and go to hell. She loved them, and wanted them to die while they were still innocent, so they would be guaranteed to get into heaven. Even the possibility of their going to hell was too much for her to bear. I remember pastoral counseling would visit her from time to time, and leave the room after an hour or so with a deer-in-the-headlights look to them.

    As a Christian who believed in hell, her logic was pretty impeccable. What’s interesting is how few Christians, even fundamentalists, cross this line in their belief. The pastors who counselled her found it bizarre, but couldn’t deal with it. It was simply a leap of logic that mentally healthy Christians don’t make.

    To draw a parallel, look at the situation in this country with abortion. A great many people believe that abortion is murder, and that abortion is literally a holocaust, with millions upon millions of innocents having been murdered. It would seem logical then, for people that believe these things, to put an end to abortion with whatever means necessary – even violence – to save these innocents. This same group of pro-life supporters wouldn’t argue that the best way of ending the Nazi holocaust was thirty years of slow legislative and judicial advance. Why are they taking a legal/judicial route if they really believe that tens of thousands of innocents are being murdered every year?

    Yet people who draw the logical conclusion, like Robert Rudolph, that violence is justifiable to save innocent lives, are ostracized by the vast bulk of the prolife movement.

    I suspect that the reason is that there’s something more important and fundamental that relgious teachings that isn’t formally recognized – maybe social mores. Sometimes we confuse religious morality with these unspoken beliefs, because in many cases, religion has been used to give them voice. But they’re not always in accord. We don’t notice this, however, because these social behaviors are so a priori and fundamental to our identities. Individuals like Eric Rudolph, or Andrea Yates or Ted Bundy, who lost or never had them, come accross to us as alien and unpredictable.

  42. I don’t know how to get italics so the other poster’s quotes will be surrounded by ::.

    :: Wrong…my proof, of course, being that we have one of the largest prison populations per capita in the entire world (including many 3rd world despotic regimes)so obviously our prisons aren’t much of a deterrent. In the U.S. our prisons are largely for punishment with occassional opportunities for reform and retraining. They, in fact, deter very few. ::

    Well, exactly what do you mean by “for punishment”? Punishment for the hell of it? For our enjoyment? Punishment has to serve a purpose, otherwise it is just sadism. If the world was going to end tommorrow, there’d be no point in keeping people locked up tonight.

    As for the prison system detering very few, that is simply crazy. What are the murder rates like in countries with criminal justice systems that don’t work well? The police are the only thing keeping us from barbarism.

    :: Ultimately, for a large majority of folks on this blessed planet, you are probably correct in your judgement. For a (thank God) much smaller minority of people – including Andrea Yates – IMHO, you’re wrong. ::

    Maybe, maybe not. Still, I think with our ignorance about what causes what in human behavior we ought to take the path that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, which is if you commit a henious crime you are punished.

    Really, have you ever watched Court TV or one of those Dateline shows with the trials? In every case they can find a psychiatrist for the prosecution and for the defense. And a jury of twelve regular people are supposed to come to a decision when the experts can’t even agree?

    I’m sure nueroscience will one day give us clear answers to these questions, but psychology certainly can’t.

  43. I don’t know how to get italics so the other poster’s quotes will be surrounded by ::.

    :: Wrong…my proof, of course, being that we have one of the largest prison populations per capita in the entire world (including many 3rd world despotic regimes)so obviously our prisons aren’t much of a deterrent. In the U.S. our prisons are largely for punishment with occassional opportunities for reform and retraining. They, in fact, deter very few. ::

    Well, exactly what do you mean by “for punishment”? Punishment for the hell of it? For our enjoyment? Punishment has to serve a purpose, otherwise it is just sadism. If the world was going to end tommorrow, there’d be no point in keeping people locked up tonight.

    As for the prison system detering very few, that is simply crazy. What are the murder rates like in countries with criminal justice systems that don’t work well? The police are the only thing keeping us from barbarism.

    :: Ultimately, for a large majority of folks on this blessed planet, you are probably correct in your judgement. For a (thank God) much smaller minority of people – including Andrea Yates – IMHO, you’re wrong. ::

    Maybe, maybe not. Still, I think with our ignorance about what causes what in human behavior we ought to take the path that works in the overwhelming majority of cases, which is if you commit a henious crime you are punished.

    Really, have you ever watched Court TV or one of those Dateline shows with the trials? In every case they can find a psychiatrist for the prosecution and for the defense. And a jury of twelve regular people are supposed to come to a decision when the experts can’t even agree?

    I’m sure nueroscience will one day give us clear answers to these questions, but psychology certainly can’t.

  44. Does anybody seriously believe this woman was anything but completely nuts to undertake this horrible act against her own children?
    I do. She didn’t want the kids around, so she killed them, like a mouse eating its own offspring when the conditions for reproduction are bad. In her estimation the potential for punishment didn’t outweigh the possible benefits of her actions.

    Just as she was about to commit the deed, she heard the voice of God telling her to stop.
    Religion is the (near) universal psychosis; so universal that it really can’t be considered an aberation or
    disease. It’s a mechanism, in this case a mechanism for controlling/optimizing reproduction.

    http://cogprints.org/1720/
    “The functions of postpartum depression
    Abstract
    Evolutionary approaches to parental care suggest that parents will not automatically invest in all offspring, and should reduce or eliminate investment in their children if the costs outweigh the benefits. Lack of paternal or social support will increase the costs born by mothers, whereas infant health problems will reduce the evolutionary benefits to be gained. Numerous studies support the correlation between postpartum depression (PPD) and lack of social support or indicators of possible infant health and development problems. PPD may be an adaptation that informs mothers that they are suffering or have suffered a fitness cost, that motivates them to reduce or eliminate investment in offspring under certain circumstances, and that may help them negotiate greater levels of investment from others. PPD also appears to be a good model for depression in general.”

    The only reason you think she’s nuts is because you think women can’t be evil, and you’re joined by the nutcases who want to make the kid’s father responsible.
    Quite so.

  45. I really hate the sexism of it. If Yates were a man she would be in her last appeals on death row right now. I don’t know why, but we have this idea in society that whenever a woman kills her children she must be insane or have a good reason. Wine above mentions some case where the husband got almost as much jail time for leaving the baby with the abusive mother as the evil bitch who actually killed the poor child. I have lived all over the country and in every place I have lived about once a year there will be some case of horrible child abuse perpetraited by a mother that results in a slap on the wrist or a trip to the mental hospital. Certainly, Susan Smith would have gotten the death penalty had she been a man rather than being free to screw prison guards and contract VD while hanging out in prison. The whole thing makes me sick.

    Maybe Yates really is insane. I don’t know. The fact that she would never have gotten off if she were a man really bugs me.

  46. Hey, if the woman can get off a capital murder charge in Texas she has to be an absolute loon.

  47. The only reason you think she’s nuts is because you think women can’t be evil…

    Nope. I think she’s nuts because a long history of hallucinations, psychotic behavior, suicide attempts, schizophrenia, post-partum-depression and needing to be on heavy doses of anti-psychotic meds suggest that she probably is. And women can, indeed, be evil. The aforementioned Susan Smith certainly fits as do many other women. Eilleen Wournos (sp?) comes to mind. I happen to be experienced and educated enough to see a distinct difference between Yates and those two.

    Still, I think with our ignorance about what causes what in human behavior…

    If you believe we’re that ignorant…I don’t. In any case, we know much more than you seem comfortable admitting. Certainly much more than we knew 1000, 100 or even 10 years ago. We’re learning all the time. It’s learning these things that took situations like Yates out of the realm of demonic possession and into the realm of mental illness.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and observe that you appear to be in the anti-intellectual camp that (mistakenly) thinks that mental health professionals are out-of-touch types who don’t really know anything.

    It might be a good time to point out that at least one of her doctors told her and her husband point blank that the Yates shouldn’t have any more children because her post-partum depression would only get worse (which it did) and her last doctor before the murders took her off her medication only because Rusty lied to him and said his wife was under constant supervision.

    …we ought to take the path that works in the overwhelming majority of cases

    I’m going to go out on another limb and observe that you appear to be in the anti-intellectual camp that (mistakenly) thinks that judges are liberal, out-of-touch types who don’t really know anything. As such, they shouldn’t be able to make nuanced decisions based on the particulars of a case.

    At this point it becomes a matter of how you slice and dice “majority of cases.” All cases where mothers kill their children? That hardly makes sense if the motivations for one is selfish desires and the motivations for another are psychotic delusions.

    And define “works”. In my evaluation, executing Yates only “works” as far as quenching ignorant, angry folks thirst for revenge. But it doesn’t work for deterrence, punishment or justice.

    Don’t think for a minute that the lady “got off.” She’s going to suffer horribly for the rest of her life. If that doesn’t satisfy your need to punish her, I don’t know what does.

    BTW, A shout out to CML above for one of the most insightful and though provoking posts I’ve read in a long time.

  48. I guess I am more interested in the prosecutor’s behavior here than I am in the underlying controversy. What turned out to be the story on the “Law and Order” consultant who testified about the urban legend episode? Was he confused, blatantly lying, or what? I also find the setting aside of two victims for a later trial worth a discussion of its own.

  49. Punishment for the hell of it? For our enjoyment? Punishment has to serve a purpose, otherwise it is just sadism.

    Grand Chalupa,

    Glad you raised this. It is an issue which has baffled me for a long time. Why are there so many people in our modern society that steadfastly demand ever more punishment for an ever-expanding list of deeds? I believe it is not sadism that drives them, but something that comes close. It makes them feel good that they can openly despise someone. That they can feel power over someone. It seems to reaffirm their own better morality. It calms their fears of disorder. Of becoming a victim.
    I believe that the goal of a criminal justice system should be to keep society as safe as possible by taking misfits out of circulation AND MODIFY THEIR BEHAVIOUR. I’m not even sure we achieve the first, a lot of prison inmates are there for non-violent offenses. But we definitely don’t even try much to accomplish the second. I fail to see how punishment achieves much at all to keep society safe. You say it works. How?

    The police are the only thing keeping us from barbarism.

    I disagree. You seem to have a very low opinion of the human race.
    It has been shown in history that even when there is a police vacuum, most people have enough decency to not abuse the situation. To be sure, a tiny minority hell-bent on destruction will have a disproportionately large impact.
    The argument can even be made with good reason that too much police promote barbarism.
    Read Balko at http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6476 for an example.

  50. Maybe Yates really is insane. I don’t know. The fact that she would never have gotten off if she were a man really bugs me.

    Men don’t generally suffer from post-partum depression.

    The men that kill their children generally do it out of anger or through long periods of abuse. Tends to put them in a different category altogether.

    If a father killed his child as the result of psychosis and schizophrenia with a history as detailed and well-documented as Andrea Yates was, I’m thinking he would probably wind up in an institution rather than prison as well – if you call that “getting off.”

    Then again, it may have more to do with the trial. Remember, the first time she was convicted.

    In the end, is a “sexist” verdict and worse or better than a verdict based on “making her pay”? Ultimately neither verdict is based on the unique factors of the case.

    Which brings up the ultimate point…the fact that as horrifying as Yates case is, there are many things that make it remarkably different from your standard “mother kills kids” scenario (assuming there is such a thing). And it is acknowledging those differences that makes for “justice” (if that’s possible in this case) in an enlightened society.

  51. In the end, is a “sexist” verdict and worse or better than a verdict based on “making her pay”?

    Actually yes. The woman drowned five children. She did it deliberately. She chased the last one around the house until she caught him and drowned him. She knew she was killing them and that killing them was wrong. An insanity defense would be appropriate if she were so ill that she beleived that she was saving them or doing so to keep government agents from killing her. Just because you are mentally ill when you comit a crime does not mean that you are not responsible. I have yet to see on shread of evidence that she didn’t understand what she was doing. The jury in both trials seem to have felt sorry for her and been unwilling to face the fact that some people are just evil.

    The fact is that Yates is a woman and will have an endless number of defenders. Give it a decade or so and she will be miraculously cured and let out of the mental hospital. Give it 15 or 20 years and she will be living a peaceful life somewhere and be the subject of an adoring 60 mintues or New York Times profile about how she was able to overcome her illness. Her poor children of course will still be dead. The whole thing is a sham.

  52. Well said, martin

  53. Let me just say that having grown up in an environment strongly shaded by one person’s mental illness and her subsequent institutionalizations and having read and talked quite a bit about it, I think that the number of cases where personal responsibility for actions is completely abdicated is vanishingly small. Some people paint or play music during significant manic swings of bi polar disorder, others rob banks. A distorted ethical system is not a disease.

    I don’t really have a problem with the practical outcome here so much as what I perceive to be overly confident statements about the inability of the mentally ill to choose and be accountable.

  54. An insanity defense would be appropriate if she were so ill that she beleived that she was saving them

    Read the facts of the case and her confession…that’s exactly what she thought.

    I don’t really have a problem with the practical outcome here so much as what I perceive to be overly confident statements about the inability of the mentally ill to choose and be accountable.

    I see your point and I agree…but as regards this case, I think don’t thinks it’s overly confident to say she was too mentally ill to “choose and be accountable.” The lady was crackers and the situation was compounded by ignorance and misguided faith.

  55. An insanity defense would be appropriate if she were so ill that she beleived that she was saving them or doing so to keep government agents from killing her.

    John: this is precisely what she did believe, that she was saving them from eternal torment in hell by ending their lives while they were still free from sin.

  56. Just because you are mentally ill when you comit a crime does not mean that you are not responsible.

    Come on, John. Please tell me you are not serious.
    This reads like you do not understand the basis of responsibility. Tell me I read it wrong, please.

    A distorted ethical system is not a disease.

    Please Jason! Can you choose to become ill?? It just so happens that mental illnesses
    affect the brain. That’s where our ethical system resides, you know. Or are you prepared to say that someone whose mental illness makes him play the piano or rock in a chair or whatever, makes a conscious choice and is responsible for it?

    Why the f*** is it so difficult for some people to understand what mental illness can do?
    Next will be the assertion that a defendant needs to prove that he/she was indeed in the grips of their well-documented mental illness at the precise moment they committed the crime and did not have one of the more or less frequent intervals of what appears to the world outside their brains as “coherent”; ergo they made a conscious choice, ergo they are responsible.
    The defendant does not have to prove anything! The prosecution does!
    In dubio pro reo.
    In case someone doesn’t know, that means: If in doubt FOR the accused.
    Sadly, this age-old principle of justice has fallen by the wayside in the zeal for punishment, revenge and their pet ideology du jour.

  57. martin, I think Jason’s referring to the fact that increasingly more treatments are available that make mental illness sufferers better able to take some measure of control (and by extension responsibility) over their lives.

    I didn’t read his comments as a defacto equating of mental illness with “a distorted ethical system”.

    You’re right…the zeal for punishment and the focus on “personal responibility” (a phrase so over- and mis-used it borders on hackneyed), has for some folks led to a flawed notion of “justice.”

    It’s not justice to always apply the same punishment to the same charges when the facts surrounding the case may be massively different from another. That’s why we have judges and juries to sort these things out.

  58. Actually, his daughters fucked him. He was drunk and unconcious at the time.

    Yeah, but even back then, nobody believed him. “Oh, yeah right, Lot. Sure they did. You old dog!”

  59. “A distorted ethical system is not a disease.

    Please Jason! Can you choose to become ill?? It just so happens that mental illnesses
    affect the brain. That’s where our ethical system resides, you know. Or are you prepared to say that someone whose mental illness makes him play the piano or rock in a chair or whatever, makes a conscious choice and is responsible for it?

    Why the f*** is it so difficult for some people to understand what mental illness can do?”

    I submit that I am at least as aware as anyone in this thread about what mental illness can do. You don’t choose to become ill, but in all but a very few cases, you choose how you will react to your illness. The number of people compelled, zombie like, to commit crimes is very very small.

    I’d also add that you are missing the other side of the coin when you treat mental illnesses as destroyers of human will. You are no longer dealing with a human being at that point but an automoton. It may be the case that free will is an illusion, but it is an important assumption in modern society. I have my doubts that the mentally ill should be excluded from that assumption for a great number of reasons.

  60. You are no longer dealing with a human being at that point but an automoton.

    Really? I beg to disagree. We still owe those “automatons” their humanity, just like we owe it to everybody. As per the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. They are still human beings. To deny them that status, logically leads back to things of the past, such as lobotomy, forced sterilisation and ultimately euthanasia. Not to mention that it strips all of us of our humanity. Remember, the Oregon Board of Eugenics existed until 1983 with the last sterilisation ocurring in 1981.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_sterilization
    Given the inevitable, few, sensational cases, usually involving children, it is a very small step back. It is already talked about again.

  61. I’m confused.

    If someone is mentally ill and commits a horrific act, and is unable to get well, should we take the chance they might escape and commit more horrible acts? If they are truely not responsible for their crimes, why waste tax dollars keeping them alive? is this justice?

    If someone can be cured, would they want to live witht he memory of what they ahd done? Isn’t it cruel and inhumane punishment to force somone to relive those thoughts and memories day in and day out? Keeping them in a mental hospital means they are probably observed so they don’t commit suicide. Thsi alos is a waste of tax dollars. Is this justice?

    If someone can be cured, and is not bothered by what they did, is that someone we want wandering on the streets? Perhaps such a person would be a bigger risk than some of the sexual predators who society seems to think can never be let out on the streets even after their sentences are completed. This is using tax dollars to make society a more dangerous place. Is this justice?

    Is killing such a person the most humane thing to do?

  62. Juanito,

    How we treat those who disobey society shows what kind of people we are. We can always revert back to “an eye for an eye”, but I don’t know if thats the kind of person I want to be.

  63. I’m sorry but I’ve been down Stephen King’s elevator shaft into the abyss so you’ll have to pardon my distinct lack of sympathy for Andrea Yates. Instead, my sympathies lie with her dead children.

    John and Jason, well said.

  64. I’d also add that you are missing the other side of the coin when you treat mental illnesses as destroyers of human will. You are no longer dealing with a human being at that point but an automoton.

    I don’t think most people see mental illness as a “destroyer of will”. Earlier I said that most folks see the ability to exercise free will as being tied to how they process perceptions. For most folks that works o.k.

    For the mentally ill, will isn’t the problem…processing perceptions is. For the mentally ill, exercising one’s will is based on severe distorions of reality, so I question your responsibility argument.

    When exercising will is based on hearing voices, seeing visions, severely flawed brain chemistry or some other factor dangerously impairing what they perceive, I would go so far as to say at that point “responsibility” isn’t even part of the equation.

    “Personal Responsibility” is not a universal remedy for all personal and societal ills. To the degree that I share your opinion, even with good, solid medications there will likely always be a fair number of people who are incapable of personal responsibility as you and I understand it.

    Not everyone on this planet can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and you can’t just kick a schizophrenic in the ass and say “Get your shit together”. It doesn’t work that way. Come to think of it, that approach isn’t terribly effective on sane people either.

  65. I’d also add that you are missing the other side of the coin when you treat mental illnesses as destroyers of human will.

    I don’t think most people see mental illness as a “destroyer of will”. Earlier I said that most folks see the ability to exercise free will as being tied to how they process perceptions. For most folks that works o.k.

    For the mentally ill, will isn’t the problem…processing perceptions is. For the mentally ill, exercising one’s will is based on severe distorions of reality, so I question your responsibility argument.

    When exercising will is based on hearing voices, seeing visions, severely flawed brain chemistry or some other factor dangerously impairing what they perceive, I would go so far as to say at that point “responsibility” isn’t even part of the equation.

    “Personal Responsibility” is not a universal remedy for all personal and societal ills. To the degree that I share your opinion, even with good, solid medications there will likely always be a fair number of people who are incapable of personal responsibility as you and I understand it.

    Not everyone on this planet can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and you can’t just kick a schizophrenic in the ass and say “Get your shit together”. It doesn’t work that way. Come to think of it, that approach isn’t terribly effective on sane people either.

  66. “For the mentally ill, will isn’t the problem…processing perceptions is. For the mentally ill, exercising one’s will is based on severe distorions of reality, so I question your responsibility argument.”

    For a very narrow range of mental disorders, this description may apply. This is much too pat for a description of general cases. The area where perceptual distortion leads someone directly to murder is very very small. Aside from those cases, you have people making decisions. The line between cause and effect is unclear. It is amazing how often delusions are self serving, for example.

  67. Without responding to anyone in particular, the insanity defense does not mean that you’re spared from a ‘guilty’ verdict because you’re insane. Jeffry Daumer comes to mind. The insanity defense hs very specific guidelines.

    “Although definitions of legal insanity differ from state to state, generally a person is considered insane and is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of the offense, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, he was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts”

    The keyword is ‘wrongfulness’ of the act. To be even more specific, you gotta be so batshit crazy that you don’t know what you did was wrong or illegal. The reason that certain batshit crazy people didn’t make it with the insanity defense is that: Despite their hearing voices, or not being able to control their ‘urges’, they knew that what they were doing was wrong, and the evidence showed that they even tried to conceal or cover up the crime. Jeffry Daumer again, comes to mind.

    This is why most average people don’t fully understand the implications of a real insanity defense. They look at someone and say “Yep, insane in the membrane” and call it done.

    Wrong. Specific facts of the case can mean that an insane person can be found guilty of a crime if, despite the obvious existence of a mental illness, they still knew that the specific acts were in fact illegal and wrong. Although the Yates case is somewhat borderline, and yes, she was a bit zippy in the head, there is evidence that she knew what she was doing was wrong. There’s also testimony that her defense was crafted…after the fact– especially in regards to the whole ‘satan’ thing.

    There is evidence in the Yates case that she knew what she was doing was illegal and wrong- I just guess that in this second trial, the jury felt that she didn’t know it was wrong ‘enough’.

    For instance, there was a severely mentally retarded man who killed an old woman with an axe, left her house, wandered down the street and thought nothing of it. Here was a case where he didn’t attempt to conceal his crime, lie about it, and really didn’t even understand the nature of the charges against him. This is a clear cut case where the person committing the crime really can’t be held responsible.

    Jeffry Daumer, on the other hand functioned in society, knew what he was doing was wrong, attempted to conceal his crimes etc. etc. This showed the court that he knew what he was doing was wrong, and therefore was ultimately held responsible– urges be damned.

  68. insanity pleas and I don’t buy into things like repressed memories or multiple personalities.

    Glad to hear it, madpad. Because, at least speaking for multiple personalities, that don’t exist. It’s a fabrication of Hollywood, and overactive imaginations of therapists.

  69. Aw, c’mon, Paul. I was just hungry! Is that so wrong? 🙂

  70. For a very narrow range of mental disorders, this description may apply.

    Not so…much mental illness involves perception processing. Cause and severity may be your sticking point. There’s a big difference between a mildly depressed person who percieves his life is garbage and a a schozophrenic who percieves demons are talking to him. Even if you disagree with that I would argue that the schozophrenic Yates falls well within the “narrow range” you speak of.

    This is much too pat for a description of general cases.

    Agreed. It’s too “pat” for any case. But then I’m not trying to be suggest that perception is the only factor, just a core one. Qualifying EVERY, SINGLE factor get’s tedious.

    The area where perceptual distortion leads someone directly to murder is very very small.

    Also true, thank God. But then this thread is about a situation where murder did occur.

    Aside from those cases, you have people making decisions.

    True…and I think unmedicated schozophrenic people – as a general rule – are less able to make “good” decisions than someone who isn’t.

    The line between cause and effect is unclear.

    Sometimes, and often because of a lack of information. In this case there was a great deal of information. Several people – doctors and such – correctly evaluated that the “effect” of Yates continuing to have children would “cause” bad things. It did.

    Her psychiatrist correctly evaluated the “effect” of leaving her unmedicated and alone with her children would “cause” a dangerous situation. It did.

    Then there’s the “cause” that letters from a “spiritual mentor” berating her, telling her what a bad mother she was and telling her it would be better for her chilren to die than go to hell because of her failures – IMHO – etablishes a pretty clear relationship to the “effect”.

    It is amazing how often delusions are self serving, for example.

    Not amazing at all. Delusions are created from the self, informed by the self and directed to the self. Why wouldn’t they be self-serving?

    In total, I think you’re just under the misperception that “lot’s of people use the insanity plea and it’s all b.s.” Maybe it makes you angry and Yates is just one more example of someone using it to “get off.”

    In reality, I doubt that it’s used very much – at least not successfully. And I wouldn’t characterize Yates as “getting off”. Her facility is surrounded by a 17-foot wall and razor wire.

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