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Andrea Yates convicted of capital murder.
March 12, 2002 5:04 PM   Subscribe

Andrea Yates convicted of capital murder. "I'm not critiquing or criticizing the verdict," defense lawyer George Parnham said. "But it seems to me we are still back in the days of the Salem witch trials." -- Que?
posted by EngineBeak (61 comments total)

 
Yeah, I mean, what the hell is wrong with those people? She was killing her children out of love, it was right for her.

/end sarcasm, disgust with the entire human race
posted by insomnyuk at 5:05 PM on March 12, 2002


Oh, come on, she doesn't deserve to die. Even though I am opposed to the needle in any case, save it for the McVeigh's of the world. She was crazy.
posted by McBain at 5:27 PM on March 12, 2002


The United States of America: "We routinely kill our mentally ill!"
posted by jpoulos at 5:37 PM on March 12, 2002


She's not crazy. Perfectly sane. She even wants to die. From Time magazine:

The death of her children, she said, was her punishment, not theirs. It was, she explained, a mother's final act of mercy. Did not the Bible say it would be better for a person to be flung into the sea with a stone tied to his neck than cause little ones to stumble? And she had failed her children. Only her execution would rescue her from the evil inside her--a state-sanctioned exorcism in which George W. Bush, the former Governor and now President, would come to save her from the clutches of Satan. Had not Scripture taught that the government is a minister of God, "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil?" She told the doctors she wanted her hair shaved so she could see the number 666--the mark of the Antichrist--on her scalp. She also wanted her hair cropped in the shape of a crown, perhaps the kind the Bible says Jesus will give to those who have won salvation.


http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,195267,00.html
posted by Keen at 5:39 PM on March 12, 2002


We lso kill our retarded felons.
That annoying little legal concept of capacity is just so inconvenient as to be passé...
posted by BentPenguin at 5:40 PM on March 12, 2002


I absolutely agree with the verdict. This woman systematically, purposefully murdered five children in cold blood. She didn't "snap" - the murders were obviously carefully calculated and very thought out. It is estimated that AFTER she chased the last child down, it took nine full minutes for the child to die - to drown in a tub of water full of vomit and human excrement.

If you took the mother/child relationship out of this case, would there still be such an outcry over the verdict? What if a woman broke into the home and chased the children down in order to kill them? What if it was a man who killed them? What would the reaction be then?
posted by phooey at 5:54 PM on March 12, 2002


i wanna believe that she will not be sentenced to death but then i remembered...oh yea this is happening in Texas. (no disrepect to any texans on here)
posted by ShawnString at 5:55 PM on March 12, 2002


I'm open to debate on whether or not Mrs. Yates should be executed(although for the record, I'm pro-death penalty in general). But comparing this situation to the Salem Witch Trials is ridiculous, there are real victims here and Mrs. Yates has admitted to killing them. She definitely is too dangerous to be out in society. The only question is where that isolation will be.
posted by jonmc at 5:56 PM on March 12, 2002


The United States of America: "We routinely kill our mentally ill!"

Just the ones who kill first (hopefully).
posted by thirteen at 6:08 PM on March 12, 2002


She's not crazy. Perfectly sane. She even wants to die.

So, she is geting exactly what she wants........

.........what is her punishment then?
posted by davehat at 6:20 PM on March 12, 2002


dave, she wants to be punished. call it masochistic if you like. she was already punished herself; now she has tried (unsuccessfully) to get out of society's punishment. i already talked about this off metafilter on a website...she was not legally insane. Nor was she insane by most psychologists interpretation of the word.
posted by wantwit at 6:41 PM on March 12, 2002


You forgot the rest of the quote (referring to the salem witch trial). It went something like "... where people who were demonized and had no control were punished for their crimes." What an idiot! We kill mentally ill? No we don't, she wasn't mentally ill.
posted by thirdball at 7:07 PM on March 12, 2002


I'm more concerned about this (courtesy CNN):
The prosecution has not charged Yates in the deaths of two children, preserving its right to charge her later. Legal analysts have speculated whether such a move might constitute double jeopardy -- trying a person twice for the same crime -- which is unconstitutional.
Is it just me, or does this sound like a ploy by the prosecution to force a second trial if the first jury had let Yates off on insanity? (If this has been discussed before, please give me a pointer.)
posted by darukaru at 7:28 PM on March 12, 2002


It's totally a ploy, darukaru, and it happens a lot. Tim McVeigh, if I remember correctly, was only tried for killing the federal employees in Oklahoma City. If for some reason he was found not guilty, there would have been another capital trial for the rest of the victims. It's our justice system trying to skirt itself.
posted by jpoulos at 7:57 PM on March 12, 2002


Sorry - executing her would achieve what, exactly? Serve as a warning to the rest of the horde of homicidal mothers out there?

'Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be to eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the wise cannot see all ends.' - Gandalf
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:10 PM on March 12, 2002


She hasn't been sentenced to death yet folks, she's been convicted of murder, not sentenced.

Oh, come on, she doesn't deserve to die.

That's for a jury to determine.
posted by insomnyuk at 8:17 PM on March 12, 2002


executing her would achieve what, exactly? Serve as a warning to the rest of the horde of homicidal mothers out there?

It would mete the proper - indeed, minimum - measure of justice for the severity of the crime. Nothing more.

It is no more than she deserves. It will not deter anyone; it will not bring those children back. It will not do anything... except provide the barest level of justice allowable under our law. And that is more than enough to warrant it.

Oh, come on, she doesn't deserve to die.

I think we are all very well aware of exactly what she deserves. It's just that some of us, in well-intentioned but ultimately misplaced mercy, are willing to abrogate our responsibility to their fellow men - not to mention five murdered children - and shirk a terrible, but necessary, chore.
posted by UncleFes at 8:27 PM on March 12, 2002


It will not do anything... except provide the barest level of justice allowable under our law.

Sounds like a half-arsed way of saying 'it'll make some folks feel better.'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:34 PM on March 12, 2002


Maybe. Does it matter? We have an obligation to provide those dead children a measure of justice.

It's not about how we feel.
posted by UncleFes at 8:51 PM on March 12, 2002


Thank you UncleFes, you took the words right out of my mouth.
posted by catatonic at 9:13 PM on March 12, 2002


UncleFes: It's not about how we feel.

I assume by this Fes that you believe we should not put the victims' families on the stand in capital cases. We always let them speak in the sentencing phase of the trial as the husband/father in this case surely will. The problem with this is that it shifts the punishment right into revenge -- Since it's really not about how the victims' family feels and it is (you claim) about some objective standard of justice.

I totally agree. Either it is revenge or it ain't. But you can't have it both ways.

I, unlike you, belive it is all about revenge and must be stopped. There's not much to do in cases like these.
posted by zpousman at 9:17 PM on March 12, 2002


jpoulos wrote:
It's totally a ploy, darukaru, and it happens a lot. Tim McVeigh, if I remember correctly, was only tried for killing the federal employees in Oklahoma City. If for some reason he was found not guilty, there would have been another capital trial for the rest of the victims. It's our justice system trying to skirt itself.

While I agree that it was a ploy, as was the Yates echo, there was a very important reason that two trials were held for McVeigh. The Federal government provides for murder trials for federal law enforcement officers. He then faced another trial under state law. This is no different than a multi-state spree murderer facing separate murder trials in each state.
posted by dhartung at 9:26 PM on March 12, 2002


zpousman: It's not about revenge per se... it's more about punishment, at least on the receiving end. What it's really about is responsibility. We, each and collectively, have a responsibility to each other that extends past our individual deaths to try and provide the best, fairest justice for all of us, especially the defenseless, that our law allows. In some cases, the law only can deliver a shadow of true justice; in some cases, it can approximate it. In many cases, it can be a bitter responsiblity... but if we look away and falter at the ugliest of cases, how can we say we strive to be a just society for all? There is injustice in our society, but each case we opt for the easier path is another brick torn from the road to fairness and equality for all.

I understand your desire to stop capital punishment. It is ugly. It is badly implemented. It is subject to the depredations of the ambitious and incompetent. But the alternative - as I understand it, life imprisonment - fails as well. It allows the criminal life, something he or she took so casually from another; it allows the criminal to continue victimizing others; it affords the criminal some access to the pleasures of life; it allows for the possibility of parole, or escape. Simply put, life imprisonment is not an appropriate response to the crimes that would draw the death penalty.

So, it is not about "revenge" as you see it, the fire-eyed bloodlust you'd like to believe. The family of the victim is there are sentencing not to inflame, but to demonstrate their loss - to reaffirm and remind the jury of their responsibility. But it is about retribution, to an extent, a cold kind. I (and the rest of society) have a responsiblity to you, if you are are murdered, to find your killer, present evidence, convict and, ultimately, take purposefully from them what they took wrongly from you.

That is why I advocate capital punishment.
posted by UncleFes at 9:42 PM on March 12, 2002


It would mete the proper - indeed, minimum - measure of justice for the severity of the crime. Nothing more.

People have debated justice for a thousand years or more, and it's never come down to solely, "Does the punishment fit the crime in an exact way?" Justice has to do with the whole of society, and what's best for it in the short term and long, and balancing objectives and values, etc., not strictly about an eye-for-an-eye, etc. As in, Socrates' death was not just, but the system was just, and respecting the law was more important than Socrates' death, or so Socrates thought. Something similar might be at work here, y'know. There are competing issues at work, so very much of the time, as surely there are here. Even the prosecution admits that the woman was seriously mentally ill, even if she ultimately knew the difference between right and wrong. I can't even fathom the consequences of ignoring that fact, but my guy tells me they're potentially huge.
posted by raysmj at 9:52 PM on March 12, 2002


Well, I meant "a thousand years," only, in the general sense of "a very long time." Anyway, Fes, justice can't be served for those already dead, really. It can only be served for the living, and society as a whole, perhaps out of respect for the dead but not for the dead. But to say otherwise is to sound mystical, and in the most goofy way imaginable. I mean, what are you trying to do, bring someone back? Punish, so something like the murder won't happen again. (You've already said "no" to that one). What if I've never been into retribution while living? Will you respect my values, or do society's values take precedence over my own? You haven't thought this through much at all.
posted by raysmj at 10:08 PM on March 12, 2002


We have an obligation to provide those dead children a measure of justice.

Eh? Hmm, some quote for this...*rustlerustle*...here we go.

"To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth." --Voltaire

This nebulous concept of justice continues to be treated as an objective and self-evident standard, and never seems to rise above some deep-seated need to see punishment meted out to those who transgress, regardless of the utility of doing so. Killing Yates accomplishes nothing outside of satisfying cries for justice; it's unlikely to operate as a deterrant to others, and execution is unlikely to make Yates less likely to kill again than a great deal of time in prison or an institution. So we're left with justice, whatever that is.

I have heard some coherent arguments that, insofar as the punishments give the victims relief/closure/etc., they are allowable and even desired. I don't much agree, but it's the most fleshed out I've seen justice, and it admits the basis of revenge. I'm not sure there's anything else there; I'd certainly be curious to hear others' definitions...which UncleFes has inconveniently posted right in the middle of my ranting. Dammit.

Much of what you (Fes) say I agree with; we have certain obligations to others, and we should strive to create as just a society as we can. The natural response is going to be that we disagree what the "just" response here is; you think capital punishment, I say nay. But I think a more general difficulty here is justice before and after the fact. We take actions as a society to keep unjust acts from occuring -- those likely to kill tend to be locked up to be prevented from committing an unjust act, and so forth -- but it's less clear that punishment is required after an unjust act is committed. We all agree that Yates' actions were unjust, but does justice then demand punishment, or does it demand we take action to prevent further injustice, making punishment a strictly utility-based endeavor. My question boils down to: does a just society imply minimizing unjust acts, or responding to unjust acts with punishments, ? They're obviously not one and the same and often opposed. I side with the former, and it leaves little room for punishment for punishments sake.

This is obviously a frighteningly complicated issue, and I'm going to cut it short before I wear out my welcome with verbage.

"Don't let anyone yell 'too late'...and punish those who do." -- George Carlin
posted by apostasy at 10:22 PM on March 12, 2002


Kill her? No. Chain her to the Wheel of Pain, maybe we could even get a few watts of electricity out of her.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:38 PM on March 12, 2002


My mother, a registered nurse and former midwife who just attended a health-care practitioner's seminar on postpartum depression, was horrified by the outcome of this case.

Her response was "This woman may have been methodical, but she certainly wasn't sane!"
posted by arielmeadow at 11:58 PM on March 12, 2002


It seems obvious to me that this woman isn't sane. You only have to read the quote that Keen posted to see that. What gets me is that even if you accepted that she was not sane, a frightening number of you would still be calling for her execution.
posted by salmacis at 1:09 AM on March 13, 2002


If you kill your kids because God told you to, you're insane.
posted by jpoulos at 6:12 AM on March 13, 2002


I'd like to hear someone (Uncle Fes?) give a justification for punishment that isn't based on some nebulous concept like "well, we owe it to the children." What exactly does that mean? The children, tragically, are dead. What comfort will they take in the execution of their mother now?

I simply don't believe in punishment for punishment's sake. I believe in deterring criminals from committing more crimes. I can't understand what purpose punishing a person beyond deterring them can possibly serve. You say that imprisonment is insufficient, because it provides access to some of the pleasures of life. I'd like to hear what the problem is with that, but only if you can give me an unemotional reason.

And, incidentally, Yates may not have fit Texas's extremely narrow definition of "legally insane", but anyone who wants to insist that the woman is "not mentally ill" hasn't done the reading. She's hopelessly mentally ill.
posted by Fenriss at 7:03 AM on March 13, 2002


Fenriss: good comment. I'd also like to know why the wishes of the children's father are being ignored when, unless I'm mistaken, victim-impact statements are often taken into consideration during a trial. He's supported her throughout this, has said repeatedly that he wants her to get help, not punishment and especially not death, and yet what he wants is completely ignored.

BTW, as far as I know the prosecution never argued that she *wasn't* mentally ill, they just claimed that she knew right from wrong at the time (huh? You're severely mentally ill, but somehow your judgment isn't affected by it?).
posted by biscotti at 7:18 AM on March 13, 2002


If you kill your kids because God told you to, you're insane.

Assuming you believe that there is no God, correct?
posted by BlueTrain at 7:19 AM on March 13, 2002


Assuming you believe that there is no God, correct?

Incorrect. Assuming there is no God who wants you to kill your kids.
posted by jpoulos at 7:27 AM on March 13, 2002


Needless to say, I horribly disagree with UncleFes. We don't punish people because we owe it to victims. In fact, I don't think we owe those kids anything. They are dead. Nothing is going to change that. in my opinion, criminal justice serves practical purposes:

1. Deterrence.

2. Seperation from society, as not to expose society at large to crime.

3. Examination of the convict (specifically the insane person) to gain better understanding of how these things happen.

Wouldn't it be better to put Yates in an institution permanently and study her head, maybe learning more about this form of depression/mental illness?

The death penalty is a cop out. It allows us as a society to avoid confronting whatever horrors are amongst us in the name of some fake "higher law".
posted by McBain at 8:01 AM on March 13, 2002


Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"...

Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin’ done?"
posted by websavvy at 8:14 AM on March 13, 2002


Her response was "This woman may have been methodical, but she certainly wasn't sane!"

I was initially in the "fry her and let G-d sort it out" camp on Yates, but the more I've read of her complete spiral into isolation, delusion and belief that she was satan incarnate, and bound to kill her children to send them to G-d to save them from her innate evilness, the less I believed that this woman was not in the grips of mental illness which was not going to be overcome in her situation. She believed that she had doomed her children to hell because they couldn't say the alphabet by age 2.

It is an inherent flaw in the legal system that someone who is acknowledged to be deeply mentally ill can still be judged by non-mental health professionals to have had completely intact judgment. It's a mind-boggling concept, especially when coupled with the Texas law which does not allow judges to explain consequences of various verdicts to juries before they deliberate, leaving jurors unaware of what will happen if they return a "not guilty due to mental defect" verdict.

If the jurors were afraid that she may end up being freed to go home and have another baby, they were almost bound to find her guilty, because they had no way of knowing that an "insanity" verdict could've still left her remanded to a mental health facility or facing other court-imposed "controls." Texas juries are double-hindered -- the sentence they choose will be the test of whether or not they were responding to that hinderance or out of a sense of revenge.

I'd also like to know why the wishes of the children's father are being ignored when, unless I'm mistaken, victim-impact statements are often taken into consideration during a trial.

There is a great deal of public sentiment against Rusty Yates in Texas right now, and still some talk about charges being brought against him. Thanks to evidence brought out in Andrea's trial, we know that he was almostcompletely responsible for the complete isolation of his family because he chose to remove them from Andrea's only real, meaningful contact with the outside world, church. He decided that they should "home church" which left Andrea totally separated from any normalising influences.

In addition, he was told, directly and in no uncertain terms, that having another child would be severely damaging to Andrea psychologically, and that was after the birth of the fourth child. Nevertheless, the doctors were of the opinion at the time that he did not take this advice seriously at all, and in fact, he did nothing to prevent subsequent pregnancies, and of course, there was a fifth baby born less than three years later. He's got far too much to answer for to be a meaningful witness for either side in the sentencing proceedings.

If you kill your kids because God told you to, you're insane.

Well, it has happened before. Though there is a great deal of difference between the patriarch of three of the world's major religions and a housewife in Houston who has already been diagnosed with a mental illness.
posted by Dreama at 8:16 AM on March 13, 2002


"Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"...

Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin’ done"

and i remember you telling me to be coherent:)
posted by clavdivs at 8:23 AM on March 13, 2002


a justification for punishment that isn't based on some nebulous concept like "well, we owe it to the children."

I did a bit of that already, but to sum: it's appropriate, it attempts to approach true justice, and as a civil society, we have delivered over to our law enforcement apparatus a lot of power in exchange for their obligation to do something when crimes are committed.

If there is no punishment for crimes, then the actions aren't crimes. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law"? We have a codified set of laws because we as a society believe that there are certain actions that are intolerable. When people commit those actions, they are punished, to instruct them and provide some redress - in part to the victim, but mostly to society in general.

What comfort will they take in the execution of their mother now?

What comfort will they take in their mother's imprisonment? None - the children are beyond comforting, sadly enough. In the end, it's not about generating comfort at all - it's about assessing an appropriate punishment for a heinous crime.

I simply don't believe in punishment for punishment's sake.

That's your right. But why not?

I believe in deterring criminals from committing more crimes

So do I, if it is possible. Despite the efforts of most of those who favor the death penalty, no deterrent effect has ever been demonstrated. At the same time, there is no demonstrable deterent effect to imprisonment, either, so far as I can tell. Recidivism rates for paroled criminals are very high. People are well aware that they can end up in jail for committing crimes, and crimes get committed frequently anyway. imo, the deterrent effect of the various aspects of the justice system is a straw man. The threat of any punishment has rarely- if ever - deterred those who are planning to commit a crime.

You say that imprisonment is insufficient, because it provides access to some of the pleasures of life. I'd like to hear what the problem is with that

Because it's not an appropriate punishment for the crime, in this case. First, why should she enjoy the pleasures or life when she herself has taken five lifetimes worth of pleasures from others? Second, life is long, and memory is short - if imprisoned, she will almost certainly, eventually, be released, unless she succombs to some accident or is murdered while in prison. In the meantime, she can victimize others, try to escape, foment appeals, etc. None of which she deserves.

She's hopelessly mentally ill.

Almost certainly. But, what of it? I have yet to hear an adequate explanation from anyone as to why mental illness excuses her actions. If ehrs had been a lesser crime, I think treatment would (and should, had that been the case) have been the course. However, I would contend that the severity of her crime eclipses the ability of mere insanity to excuse it.

I'd also like to know why the wishes of the children's father are being ignored

My understanding is that he testified in his wife's defense...? And that hw will speak at her sentencing. In the end, though, he is there to remind the jury of their responsibilities, not inflame them. Because he loves his wife and, perhaps, feels some culpability himself for this crime does not eliminate the fact that a crime has taken place. Thousands of battered wives refuse to press charges in their assaults, and yet do we deny that they have been wronged and those wrongs should be punished?
posted by UncleFes at 8:25 AM on March 13, 2002


Wouldn't it be better to put Yates in an institution permanently and study her head, maybe learning more about this form of depression/mental illness?

Good one.

Also, re: her husband...the poor guy has already lost all of his children. Who are we to take away his wife, too? Mr. Yates has stated that he does NOT want his wife to die, and killing her, while maybe giving us a sense of justice being done, commits a grevious injustice to him. Calling for the death penalty in this case seems quite selfish.
posted by andnbsp at 8:29 AM on March 13, 2002


In fact, I don't think we owe those kids anything.

That statement is as damning an indictment of our society's ethical lapses as any I've ever heard.

Barring the fairly extensive moral aspects, our Constitution, on which our justice system is based, observes that "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are inalienable rights. And while those rights might no fare well outside of US borders, here they are paramount. Yates committed the ultimate crime we have - from both humanistic and political standpoints - against five defenseless victims. I'm a bit embarassed I have to even say this, but we owed those children sufficient protection to fully engage their rights, and since we failed to that, we now owe them the posthumous assurance that we will punish the person who deprived them of such - not because it will deter others, or because she's evil, but because if we don't, how can we presume to say these rights are inalienable as we claim to believe?
posted by UncleFes at 8:36 AM on March 13, 2002


She hasn't been sentenced, people. Women hardly ever get the death penalty.
posted by glenwood at 8:38 AM on March 13, 2002


She's hopelessly mentally ill.

Almost certainly. But, what of it? I have yet to hear an adequate explanation from anyone as to why mental illness excuses her actions.


Your whole argument, Fes, rests on the idea of a "code" of conduct that we all agree to abide by. When we break that code, we face punishment. Well, Andrea Yates was not capable of agreeing to that code. Even if, somewhere in her addled brain, she was aware that the secular world would find her actions "wrong", she believed that a higher power was guiding her.

She did what what she thought (in her completely fucked up mind) was *right*. She thought she was helping her children. There's a difference between someone who does that and someone who is trying to do the wrong thing.

If God showed up at your dinner table tonight, and told you to do something or face eternal damnation, you'd probably do it. That's what this woman did. Personally, I don't believe that God was actually speaking to her--no sane person would--but I believe, as most who've heard the case do, that she believed it. And that's what matters.
posted by jpoulos at 8:43 AM on March 13, 2002


Uncle Fes, you are avoiding the point of my disagreement. You keep using terminology like "appropriate punishment" and "she doesn't deserve it" which are entirely subjective positions. I think an appropriate action in this situation is to assure that this woman is permanently committed to a mental hospital, as a ward of the state.

Why don't I believe in punishment? Because it's irrational. I have plenty compassion for someone who looks at what Andrea Yates has done, and says "there is no punishment terrible enough for her." I don't even necessarily disagree, in terms of my emotional reaction to her crime. But a civilized society should not address criminal behavior in accordance with how bad it makes us feel.

You have said yourself that punishment is not a deterrent. I'd suggest that only permanent imprisonment for violent offenders will do the trick. I confess that this can be impractical in our overcrowded prisons, but I'm quite sure the answer is not to simply kill them off to make room.

I guess I don't really understand the concept of justice. It's abstract and it has never seemed to me to be based on reason. I know how it feels to be angry enough at someone to want to see them suffer, but I also consider that impulse in myself to be base, and certainly not the sort of thing I'd want my society to use as a foundation for our laws.
posted by Fenriss at 8:51 AM on March 13, 2002


UncleFes -- we cannot EVER offer justice to the victims of murder. It just isn't possible. This has nothing to do with an ethical lapse, but with the advance of logic in governance of the people, by the Law of the people.

Law is about preservation of society, not individuals. Justice is never about the individuals, but about the society they inhabit. While individuals are protected, it is society that is trying to survive.

We failed to protect the children, it is true. We, the people, did NOT guarantee the inalienable rights of those kids to life. But, how do we punish society? If there were people involved in the decisions that allowed the additional children to be born (thus pushing her over the edge), if there were people involved in the decisions that allowed her to be at home and unmedicated, if there were people involved that could have prevented this crime.... we need to seek them out. But, not for the children. For OUR SOCIETY.

Her death won't do much more than save society the cost of housing and treatment. And, it won't do that for quite a while, if the appelate process does what it always does....

I don't know if treatment will work. I have no idea if she will ever be a productive member of this society. But, I do know this -- her death will benefit us none at all.

Nonetheless, from a revenge standpoint, I expect her to die. Sometimes I hate myself for those feelings.
posted by dwivian at 8:54 AM on March 13, 2002


With regards to the issue of mental illness - the legal definition of insanity is a legal construct which doesn't really match up with any medical definition. In my mind, anyone who commits these sorts of crimes is by definition not any kind of model for a sane view of the world, regardless of what the psychiatrists say. (Interestingly, I could say the same for the hijackers who flew into the WTC towers. If any had survived, how many would vote for letting them off by reason of insanity?)

That being said, the real meat of the matter seems to be the function of punishment - deterrence, protection for society, or righting of some cosmic balance of who deserves what (justice). In my view, deterrence isn't a real issue here - anyone messed up enough to do something like this isn't worried about the legal consequences. Dispensing "what people deserve" isn't a top priority for me - I'm not sure too many of us want to face up to what we truly deserve. Protection for society could be accomplished either by the death penalty or by life imprisonment. However, a thought occurs to me. I'm normally anti-death penalty, because it's horrendously misapplied and there's no recourse when you find out you've executed the wrong person. In this situation, I think you could make a case for capital punishment as a mercy killing and as an acceptance of the limits of what we can do with mental health. At this point in history, we have not a clue about how to heal the mind of anyone who is this messed up. We don't even have the beginnings of a glimmer of a path of research which would get us there. This woman will be for the rest of her life in an internal hell that most of us can't imagine. Even if we could restore her to sanity, that would entail fully comprehending what she has done, which would be even more painful & probably drive her mad again. Executing her may just be the most merciful thing that can be done. Those of you who want retribution should probably be advocating keping her alive.

Just my thoughts, anyway.
posted by tdismukes at 8:58 AM on March 13, 2002


I'm not sure I quite see how her doing what she thought God told her to do makes her insane. It may make her a religious 'nutjob,' but just think about how many millions of people do things in their lives, for good and bad, because they claim they had a conversation with God or something of the sort.

Now if she was atheist and did what God told her, that's a little nutty. I also think if the jury as mostly atheist, they'd be more willing to find her insane since, damn, who but a crazy woman would do something because her God told her to? The trial being held in Texas probably guarantees quite a few religious folk on the jury, a few who may have done things in their lives after talking with God. They don't think they're insane, so why would that reason make her so?
posted by Mrmuhnrmuh at 9:03 AM on March 13, 2002


And that's what matters.

I agree right up to this point. There are certain crimes, imo, that are so heinous that... "the severity of her crime eclipses the ability of mere insanity to excuse it."

Once you set to murdering children, what you personally believe is right is irrelevant.

I think an appropriate action in this situation is to assure that this woman is permanently committed to a mental hospital, as a ward of the state.

An excellent point on the subjectiveness of the response. It does not, however, change my mind. Nor, I suspect, do my entreaties change yours. We have opposite views on what constitutes justice. There may not be a "right" one.

But a civilized society should not address criminal behavior in accordance with how bad it makes us feel

Another good point, but instead of "how bad it makes us feel," read "how much damage to the individual victims and society as a whole the criminal has done." Bad feelings, to greater and lesser extents, stem from that, I think.

I'd suggest that only permanent imprisonment for violent offenders will do the trick.

When permanence can be guaranteed, I will absolutely reconsider my advocacy of the death penalty. But so far in the history of man, and in light of our current system of review and parole, I can't imagine that guarantee will be in place anytime soon.

It's abstract and it has never seemed to me to be based on reason

I think it comes from the idea of individuals sacrificing some actions/rights in favor of collective safety, and of rational accountability for one's actions (Hobbes, I think, definitely Locke).

Gah, what a horrible day, to have to bandy this sort of thing about in a concrete, rather than hypothetical, terms. We should be welcoming the spring with margaritas and laughter, not discussing the impending fate of a cruelly sick murderess. I hate her for that.

::sighs, leaves::
posted by UncleFes at 9:11 AM on March 13, 2002


I'm not sure I quite see how her doing what she thought God told her to do makes her insane.

I think it's her well-documented history of mental illness that makes her insane. And given that it seems reasonable that a deeply religious person would assume that the voices in their head were "God", I think that the name she gave to the voices her schizophrenia made her hear is immaterial. The issue here isn't whether or not she heard "the voice of God", the issue is that her psychosis and delusions led to her killing her children.
posted by biscotti at 9:16 AM on March 13, 2002


Does anybody else believe that Yates has some measure of culpability because of her (and quite possibly her husband's) decision to (a) have more children after being told that doing so would almost certainly induce psychosis, and (b) choosing to discontinue her medication?

Presumably she was sane and rational at the time these choices were made. These don't provide the intent for murder, but appear to me to at least be signs of negligence (as in criminal negligence: essentially, doing something that is likely to cause something bad to happen, when you should have known better).

Or did I miss something?
posted by doorsnake at 9:48 AM on March 13, 2002


Gah, what a horrible day, to have to bandy this sort of thing about in a concrete, rather than hypothetical, terms. We should be welcoming the spring with margaritas and laughter, not discussing the impending fate of a cruelly sick murderess. I hate her for that.

Fair enough, UncleFes. Despite our disagreements, you make some very good points, and have given me ample food for thought.

However, I couldn't agree more with your closing statement here. I, too, think I'll try to get my mind off of this miserable subject.

Frozen, or on the rocks?
posted by Fenriss at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2002


When permanence can be guaranteed, I will absolutely reconsider my advocacy of the death penalty. But so far in the history of man, and in light of our current system of review and parole, I can't imagine that guarantee will be in place anytime soon.

Many states sentence murderers to "life imprisonment without the possibility of parole". That's a guarantee. Unless you're scared of jailbreaks or something.
posted by jpoulos at 9:58 AM on March 13, 2002


dwivian did a good job of elaborating on my statement, Uncle Fes.

Of course she must be punished, but your statements that executing her brings us closer to "true justice" worries me. Particularly since in my opinion, "true justice" is mostly an imaginary concept.
posted by McBain at 10:06 AM on March 13, 2002


When permanence can be guaranteed, I will absolutely reconsider my advocacy of the death penalty. But so far in the history of man, and in
light of our current system of review and parole, I can't imagine that guarantee will be in place anytime soon.


How about this? When you can prove absolutely to me that we won't ever again execute innocent people, I will reconsider my opposition to the death penalty.
posted by McBain at 10:12 AM on March 13, 2002


Also, re: her husband...the poor guy has already lost all of his children.

That "poor guy" is just as responsible as his deranged wife.
It's a pity that he's not on trial with her.

Although he broke no laws (n.b., IANAL), he was a major contributor to the situation. He ignored advice to get help for his wife time and time again, and was specifically warned that his wife would be dangerously depressed after having a fifth child, yet he fathered a fifth child with her anyway. Not to mention the oppressive atmosphere created by his religious fundamentalism ...

He may not bear legal culpability under our system, but he bears a great deal of responsibility indeed.
posted by chuq at 12:27 PM on March 13, 2002


Salon collected some interesting perspectives on the decision.

Particularly interesting, in response to doorsnake's comment:

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women
When you look at health insurance and HMOs you see what we see in this case: A person with severe mental illness who was put out of the hospital before she was ready because she reached the time limit. Clearly, she wasn't ready to be out of the hospital, but because HMOs have so much power they can do that. And why was she taken off of Haldol when her husband, according to the hospital records, was calling them desperate to put her back on? It's "John Q" all over again: HMOs doing things that have a terrible impact on people's lives and families.

posted by arielmeadow at 2:38 PM on March 13, 2002


Hmmm, if we can't execute or imprison someone who is "mentally ill" then shouldn't we be able to lock them up before they commit any crime? Aren't we basically saying that they weren't competent to make a moral decision in the first place?

I'm actually highly confused by this whole (and related) issues. For example, people are also opposing the execution of the retarded. Which seems entirely reasonable to me. But, at the same time, isn't the implication of this argument that the retarded are dangerous? Do retarded people commit violent crimes at a greater rate than other people? If not, then why is the violent mistake of someone like that any different from the violent crime of someone of above average intelligence.

Anyway the scare quotes around mental illness aren't meant to be too scary. I just think there are a lot of different things caught up in those words. I'd consider almost any young person who takes their own life to be mentally ill, but that's hardly an uncommon occurence. If that exact same sort of hopelessness, despair and pain led to some 18-year-old killing someone would they be innocent by reason of their mental illness?
posted by Wood at 5:39 PM on March 13, 2002


if we can't execute or imprison someone who is "mentally ill"

If someone is found not guilty by insanity, they don't walk. They get institutionalized.

then shouldn't we be able to lock them up before they commit any crime?

We do. People are committed.

But, at the same time, isn't the implication of this argument that the retarded are dangerous?

Uh, no.

If not, then why is the violent mistake of someone like that any different from the violent crime of someone of above average intelligence.

That is a really odd logical leap.

If that exact same sort of hopelessness, despair and pain led to some 18-year-old killing someone would they be innocent by reason of their mental illness?

Possibly. So what? It is not like they roam free.
posted by McBain at 7:48 PM on March 13, 2002


Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't think out loud. I suppose that children are the classic class of folks who aren't held to full responsibility for their actions. And they are subject to some but not absolute restrictions on their freedom. Other "protected" classes are subject to similar non-absolute restrictions. Not like the "lock them up" scenario I'm thinking about above.
posted by Wood at 7:50 PM on March 13, 2002


The problem with mental illness as a criminal defense is that it's quite a slippery concept. It is easy to look at Yates's crime and proclaim that no sane person could ever commit such an act. But then, what sane person would, say, rob a bank? Steal a car? Mail anthrax to people? Surely these too are insane acts. It would be simple to define criminal behavior in itself as a mental illness. And then we can't hold anyone responsible for their crimes, because they're sick. I don't find this acceptable at all, but the alternative (punish everyone, even the retarded or mentally ill) just doesn't seem humane. Our justice system has worked out an uneasy compromise between these two positions and it's not terribly consistent, which bothers me just as much. Clearly one of those no-win situations.
posted by kindall at 9:30 PM on March 13, 2002


Slippery slope fallacy, kindall.

It's a question of motive - insane crimes have motives that no reasonable person can comprehend. In your examples, money, a new car, and a political agenda are perfectly rational. Sending your kids to heaven because they don't know the alphabet isn't.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:19 PM on March 13, 2002


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