Based on the news reports, by any conventional definition the poor woman was insane. Don’t however, count on that being a defense, or, in Texas, maybe even a mitigating factor. After the attempted assassination of President Reagan, many State Legislatures rushed to change their criminal codes to repeal the relatively progressive (I can’t say “liberal”) definition of insanity based on medical criteria which they had been using and replaced it with a 19th Century definition based on an English case in which a mad man tried to kill the Prime Minister and killed his secretary, a Mr. M’Naughten instead. The result was a rule that said a Defendant was not insane for the purpose of avoiding criminal liability unless he had no more appreciation of right and wrong than a wild beast.
The rule that was adopted in this State in the early 80s is that insanity is a defense to criminal behavior when the Defendant pleads and proves by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant suffers from a disease or deranged condition of the mind which renders the Defendant incapable of understanding that his act is criminal. As one commentator has noted the modern M’Naughten rule “seems to have torn the vitals out of the insanity defense, and to be a short step from completely eliminating it from the criminal law.” Yeager and Carlson, Iowa Criminal Law and Practice.
One other point, a defense of insanity is in the nature of a confession and avoidance. In order to raise the defense the Defendant must admit the acts but deny responsibility for them. In this State the defendant is not permitted to say “I didn’t do it but if I did I was/am crazy and not responsible.”
I honestly believe if she loved her children as much as her husband thinks she did… He would’ve come home to 6 corpses.
I’ve only got one child… but if I killed him, even on accident… I would immediately end my own life. No harm, no foul. Why? Because I’m a mother. I dont want to outlive my little angel, regardless… I couldn’t imagine living life with the knowledge that my pride and joy was gone and it was all my fault.
I sure as hell couldn’t live with the memory of my dying child squirming beneath me, dying at my own hand. I couldn’t live with the memory of my oldest boy (A year older than my own, he was) running through the house, trying to escape his imminent death… and the moment I caught him and towed his helpless little body to a glamourless death in the bathroom of my very own home. I know I’m a fairly large woman and if my boy were kicking and screaming, I would have problems holding him still… She’s a slight woman, I dont know how she managed… but I assume it took quite a bit of effort on her part.
If she truly loved her children… I dont know why she bothers breathing anymore.
[teary eyes]I’m a medical student. I see many families at their absolute worst. I recently finished a pediatrics rotation which served to highlight my awareness of the prevalence of serious child abuse. I NEVER understand what the parents are thinking when they hurt their children. Usually, though, the abuse happens quickly, in a heated moment (breaking a child’s arm or dipping a child in hot water). The abuse continues over time, but each event is isolated and acute.
What makes the Texas case so much worse was that it was no acute event. I can’t imagine any mother drowning child after child over their screaming protests. The thought of it is chilling.
She’s either the most evil person on earth or…
I can’t think of anything else she could be.[/teary eyes]
Call me crazy, then, because I can see where he’s coming from. If he sincerely and completely believes that her actions were not borne of malice, but because of some form of temporary/prior insanity, heaping more blame and guilt on her isn’t going to do anyone any good. Being supportive of her during this crisis is an action I can only applaud.
My biggest question in all this is why, in a society with easily available birth control, a woman who suffered from crippling post-partum depression had five children. She was apparently so badly depressed after kid #4 that she attempted suicide. Then they went ahead and had another? Baffling. And, although she has been badly depressed for the last several months – according to one report I heard, despite the same medication she used with her previous depression, she was only “65% back to normal” – she was still home-schooling all 4 older children. The daily care of this many children, this close together in age, must have hindered her recovery. They couldn’t put the older kids in school to give her a break during school hours? Or (better yet) hired someone to help her out during the day until she was fully recovered?
At any rate, I’m with malkavia. Assuming that she is found to be legally insane and can be rehabilitated, her first act after being “back to normal” would have to be a second (and more successful) suicide attempt. No “normal” mother could continue under the load of guilt that this memory would produce.
And, as for the father – I’m utterly, utterly baffled by hisresponse (and the response of his parents). I would forgive my husband almost anything… but I would never forgive anyone killing my children in cold blood.
I really, really hate to play devil’s advocate for a woman who kills five children but I have to question these points.
We touched upon insanity briefly in an abnormal psychology class I took. IRC, to be legally considered insane, you must not be able to form criminal intent or assist in your own defense. This gets into all sorts of questions about criminal intent, etc, that I’m not qualified to address. I’m not a lawyer, but I would suppose a psychologist could make a case that she was insane at the time she committed the acts. I don’t know if a jury would accept that.
I agree that killing is not something normal people do. However, killing people is not in and of itself proof of insanity. A sociology prof I had illustrated this as circular reasoning:
Person A killed person B because A is insane.
How do we know A was insane?
Because he killed B.
Why did A kill B?
Because A is insane.
Thus, I don’t think a serial killer would automatically qualify as insane. Execution-worthy, in my book, but not automatically insane.
My gut reaction is to say “This woman should be executed!” (Or imprisoned for life, but this is Texas, after all," but I’m waiting for more evidence on her mental state.
Unless I missed something this morning, as of last night ** she ** hadn’t said anything about why she did it. It was an assumption her husband made, based on the fact that he knew her to be suffering deeply from PPD.
Hmm. I hadn’t heard a thing about this. Where did you hear this? While it seems a likely scenario as any, I can think of others equally likely.
You seem to have a great deal of agreement so far with your opinion about this situation. I disagree with you, however.
I obviously don’t know any more about this case than anyone does, but let’s assume that what we’ve been told so far is roughly true.
In a small percentage of cases, PPD (post-partum despression) can cross over the line into psychosis. Descriptions of this woman’s behavior in recent months sound pretty disconnected from real life.
Her husband knows her better than anyone, one would think. He seems to feel rather strongly that the woman she is right now bears no resemblence to the woman she normally is.
Therefore, this woman is suffering serious mental distrubance due primarily to hormones. It seems pretty obvious to me that she’s going to shake out of this someday soon, and be utterly destroyed by what she has done.
The same is not true of serial killers. Nuts or not, that’s a debatable point. (I think some are, some aren’t) But they do what they do because it give them a thrill. I don’t think this woman did it for thrills. I think she believed at the time she was doing it that she was doing a good thing. However tragic and horrifying the act was, and it ranks right up there, you have to look at what she believed at the time she did it. Intent is absolutely considered in the law.
Someone else said that if she didn’t commit suicide herself, then forget it. The only way her PPD could be a legit explanation for what she did is if she killed herself as well. Well, I don’t think any of us can really make that call. We all have a tendency to measure everyone else against ourselves, but that is not at all fair. We are all different. I don’t think any of us can begin to imagine what that woman has been going through.
Of course, maybe she’s just a selfish bitch who got sick and tired of motherhood, like Susan Whatserface who drowned her kids in the car when they became inconvenient. After all… FIVE kids? Maybe she never even wanted one! But I started this post by saying I was assuming what we know so far is true. And her husband says she loves her children. I believe him.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.
Oh, and one more thing. According to Nightline, PPD has been used as a defense twice before in Texas, by women who killed their children. Once, the woman got 2 years probation, and the other woman was acquitted.
I’m fascinated. If anyone else in the world killed his five children, he’d have their heads, I’m sure, but because it was their MOTHER, it’s ok?
READ IT AGAIN. BECAUSE THEIR MOTHER KILLED THEM…IT’S OK.
No. I can’t support it. I wouldn’t support my husband if he killed my children, and i know he wouldn’t support me. post partum or not, malicious or not (which, chasing your son around the house in order to kill him is malicious, IMHO), her actions can not be excused.
Its unfair to think that Susan Smith was any less psychologically damaged than this woman. In fact, Susan Smith had all sorts of abuse issues if I remember correctly.
I do believe this woman is insane. I do believe (or at least hope) that she will eventually realize what she’s done and be devestated… because I’d like to believe that she’s human.
Its been said that its impossible to tell whats going through someone elses mind, but really… its not that our hardwiring is all that varied. She was raised in the states. Therefore she pretty much has the same environment as the rest of us. There will be some variances, but nothing -this- drastic.
I do think she’s a threat to society and should be dispatched with as such. If she’s that prone to snap, I dont think she can be trusted to be a normal, functioning member of society and I dont feel that we should have to live among her.
Same goes for Susan Smith.
What if it goes beyond PPD? What if next time its your child? It’s too risky. If the problems were that bad, she should’ve been removed from her children a long time ago.
People dont generally kill on their first whim.
Boo on dad for leaving the children with a woman not in her right mind, as well. I know its unfair to expect him to know what was going to happen… but as a parent, sometimes you have to anticipate the worst.
I cannot discribe the level of anger and sadness to which I am filled by this woman’s actions. If there is a hell, surely there will be a special place for her. But I must say that I reserve a special little place of absolute disgust for some of the so called reporters that are coming out of the woodwork as this story is breaking.
As I heard on the news while getting dressed at the gym this afternoon:
As to the OP. Clearly the woman is not in her right mind. Should that excuse her from the maximum penalty allowed by law for the crimes she commited? Of course not. Am I glad that the maximum penalty may be the death sentence? No. I think it is more fitting that she be allowed to live out her days with the memory of her actions echoing inside her head until her own natural death. Is her husband right for standing by her? Probably so. But I don’t believe for a second that his stance should be interpreted as forgiveness for what she has done. I just think he is either an exceptionally strong minded person with uncoditional love for his wife, or a man in denial for whom this tragedy has not become a full reality yet.
My grandmother suffered from PPD and was institutionalized for about 2 years after my mom (the youngest of 7) was born. They were a very poor farm family in South Dakota. My grandmother kept on having kids after kids after kids, no relief, stuck out in the middle of nowhere as my grandfather worked as a traveling salesman. She snapped one day, and tore apart all my grandfather’s clothes so he couldn’t leave again for work. I guess that behavior, along with other disturbing behavior, prompted my grandfather to have her institutionalized.
I want to reserve judgment on this woman until we learn more. I do wonder why she kept on having kids, if she was prone to PPD. I wonder why the kids were all home with her, and I wonder if there had been any “warning signs” that she was going off the deep end.
I do understand why the husband may feel this way. I also think he’s in shock, and doesn’t really know yet what he feels. But perhaps he knew how bad off she was. But then I have to ask myself - if he knew she was bad off, why was she left alone with the kids?
It’s way premature to be speculating about whether this woman’s (obvious) insanity was sufficient to enable her to successfully raise an insanity defense. That decision is going to be made by a jury, which will have the benefit of days and days worth of expert testimony on her mental state at the time of the killing. Right now, all we know is that she killed her kids in a particularly shocking way, and that she apparently suffered from serious post-partum depression.
According to Texas Penal Code section 8.01, “It is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong.” In light of this right/wrong insanity provision, I find it kind of interesting that the first thing the mother did here was call her husband and the police to tell them what she had done. If I were her lawyer, I’d argue that indicated that she did not understand what she had done was wrong. That’s also quite unlike Susan Smith, whose conduct in trying to cover up the murders of her sons pretty clearly indicated she knew it was wrong.
Oh, and I totally agree with those posters who’ve already asked what the hell they were thinking when they had that fifth child, not to mention what a bad idea it was to leave a woman suffering from severe PPD in charge of five children. Even if there was no reason to think she’d intentionally harm the kids, it’s not as if they were probably getting the best of care.
I agree that this is an important consideration. Seeing as the purpose of punishment is deterrence, there’s not much point to punsihment if it doesn’t deter people. The fact that serial killers usually go to significant lenghts to keep from getting caught shows that they are aware of the consequences of their actions. The fact that this woman took no steps to avoid getting caught implies that she did not recognize the consequences of her actions. While a sane person might kill their children, would a sane person kill their own children in their own home? Susan Smith clearly planned the killing ahead of time. It seems that this woman did not.