Thursday, June 22, 2006

Can Andrea Yates Get a Fair Trial?

Andrea Yates is a mentally ill woman in Texas who was found guilty of killing her children and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Now, never mind that her husband and mental professionals testified that Andrea suffered deep bouts of post-partum depression and delusion.

In Texas, the bar is set so high that multi-personalities, hearing voices and a bout of psychosis doesn’t mean squat.

If you kill someone, as Andrea did, because you think you're such a terrible sinful mother that your kids are better off with God than with you; and right after murdering them you call the police to surrender so you can be punished, the law says your deeds prove you knew what you were doing was wrong; and then deems you sane enough for trial, punishment and even the ultimate penalty, death.

But thankfully for Andrea, the prosecution introduced faulty evidence during her last trial; and the verdict was overturned by an appeals court.

Dr. Park Dietz, who served as the state's mental health expert during the first trial four years ago, told the jury that an episode of the NBC drama Law & Order - which depicted a mother being acquitted by reason of insanity after drowning her children in a bathtub - had aired shortly before Yates killed her five children on June 20, 2001. Prosecutors said that Yates was an avid viewer of the program.

After Yates was convicted, but before she was sentenced to life in prison, attorneys and the jury learned that no such episode of Law & Order existed.

Now ain't that nice?!?

Well, thank the sweet Lord a death sentence is not an option this time around.

It also seems with all the publicity, the courts are having a tough time finding a jury panel that is not already familiar with the case.

In fact, one-fourth of the panelists admitted to the courts that they'd already "reached a conclusion on Yates' guilt or innocence based on pre-trial publicity," the Houston Chronicle reports.

It hardly seems civilized to avenge the crazed deeds of a hapless psychotic mother who suffered from postpartum depression; and several threads in the story are encouraging.

For instance, the Chronicle writes that several jury panel members argued against the legal definition in Texas case law as it relates to the insanity defense plea.

"What if you totally disagree with that concept?'' one panelist asked.

Seventeen panelists flat out told the judge that any mother who killed her children was prima facie evidence she was legally insane.

And what’s more, the judge was heard reassuring would-be jurors not to worry about the death penalty:

"From the questionnaires, we know that some of you have concerns about the death penalty. Let me tell you from the outset, the death penalty is not an option in this case,'' Hill told the crowd

Howling Latina is forever grateful that Andrea Yates was spared her life during the first trial; and now hopes during the second trial that a jury concludes Andrea needs help, not punishment.

She certainly did not choose her illness, anymore than one chooses cancer or skin color; and has absolutely no control over her mental state.

A just society has the moral duty to care for all its citizens; and mental care for someone with mental illness is a core public responsibility.

I couldn't agree more. The only comment I would add is for law enforcment to look at her husbands responsibility in all this. Clearly she demonstrated symptoms with the birth of each child, so why did he continue impregnating her? Was he trying to push her over the edge, or is he just incredibly stupid?

He was stupid, I prefer to think.
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