Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Andrea Yates Case


[Dinah hates this
logo. What do you
think?]
I've seen a couple comments on the blog asking for a post about the Andrea Yates case. I know this would be an obvious topic for me, but I haven't touched it for a couple of reasons. First, I've been too...um...upset? annoyed? pissed off? about the recent murder—the second one this year—of a correctional officer in our system that I figured it would be best to avoid the blog for a few days. I'm thinking there should be at least as much outrage over the premeditated killing of a law enforcement officer (see links in Officer Down), committed by two convicted murderers in a maximum security facility on lockdown, as there was over the deaths of the poor little kids in the Andrea Yates case. But enough about that. The legislative inquiry has begun and what must be done will be done.

The other reason I haven't blogged about it is because frankly, from a professional standpoint, it's not that interesting. If the jurisdiction had been any place other than Texas this would have been an uncontested insanity case, a legal walk-through. She had a documented psychotic disorder with an established treatment history. There was no question of drug or alcohol involvement, at least from what I've read in the media. This case became a media event because it was a death penalty case and because it presented political issues related to women—the burden of child-rearing and the role of men in childcare (especially for large families). Frankly, if the defendant had been a man I doubt this case would have gotten as much attention. Carrie made an interesting observation in a comment on my post Why I Hate Jason Burke:
One friend said that you'd have to be crazy to kill your own kids...well that should be proof enough right there that she wasn't in her right mind!
Not so. Most infanticide offenders are not psychotic, and most are male. Some infanticide (called neonaticide when the victim is a newborn) offenses are committed by young women who deny their pregnancy and are able to hide the pregnancy for months from friends and family. Women who kill older children also do so for non-psychotic reasons—remember Susan Smith? The killing of older children is sometimes prefaced with earlier incidents of child abuse and neglect. Full demographic and other background information about child offenders can be found here. As with most violent offenses, drug and alcohol abuse usually plays a role.

So there's my comment on Andrea Yates. I'm not going to comment on whether either of the two verdicts were 'right' or 'wrong'. I don't have access to any of the evidence and that's just not my call to make.