Friday, July 28, 2006

Idiot Response to Andrea Yates Verdict

This week, the jury in the Andrea Yates murder trial found her not guilty by reason of insanity. Yates, in the throes of a prolonged and intense case of post-partum psychosis, drowned her five children in 2001.

Predictably, the verdict has received mixed reviews, some favoring the verdict, others decrying it as a miscarriage of justice. Similarly, the quality of the reviews have been mixed. Some have been intelligently discussed. Others are plain idiotic.

In the latter category is today's column by conservative pundit Michael Gallagher which is on The column's headline is "Not Guilty" with its subhead: "Our judicial system is broken. And somebody needs to fix it."

Among Gallagher's arguments are the following:

"I hope and pray that if we ever catch Osama Bin Laden, he doesn’t hire George Parnham, Andrea Yates’ attorney. After all, how crazy must he be, to think that slaughtering people who love Christ is the way to meet the 70 virgins in heaven? How nuts is someone who straps bombs to his body and blows up himself and a bunch of children in a pizza parlor?"

The major problems with this argument is that 1) Osama Bin Laden is biologically incapable of suffering post-partum psychosis and 2) the implication is that Parnham was able to get Yates to be set free, which is not true. Let's suppose Parnham did defend Bin Laden and was able to get him found not guilty be reason of insanity. The worst that would happen is that Bin Laden would spend the rest of his days in a mental institution, which, for him, might be a worse fate than death. Rather than be a martyr, he would just be viewed as a "kook."

Another Gallagher gem:

"Our judicial system needs help. The scales of justice are enormously tipped on the side of the bad guys. Since Andrea Yates and her attorneys were allowed to shop around for the jury they wanted, why can’t the prosecutors? If a multiple child-killer can keep going back to the well to come up with a verdict that pleases her (and keeps her out of jail), why can’t the state? Oh, that’s right: double jeopardy. We only give the judicial system one chance at a guilty verdict. The murderers get multiple chances, there’s no double jeopardy rule for a not guilty verdict."

Gallagher really hasn't followed the history of this trial. In the first trial, the prosecution proposed subjecting Andrea Yates to the death penalty, knowing full well that no jury (even in Texas, where the death penalty is frequently meted out) would ever give her that penalty. But, research has shown that death penalty qualified juries are more conservative that ones that are not, so getting a death penalty qualified jury stacked the deck against Yates in her quest for a "not guilty by reason of insanity" verdict.

During the trial, Park Dietz, a prosecution expert witness, gave false testimony on the stand. How much that testimony affected the jury will never be known. The jury found Yates guilty of murder, but failed to give her the death penalty.

Because of Dietz' false testimony, Yates' legal team was able to successfully appeal her verdict, and get a new trial. So, Andrea Yates was not getting "multiple chances" at a favorable verdict. She was getting *a* fair chance. Once she was given a *fair* chance at a trial, she was found "not guilty by reason of insanity."

The justice system worked exactly the way it should have.

In the criminal justice system, the concept of "mens rea" applies to determining whether or not someone is legally responsible for a crime, even as one as heinous as Andrea Yates killing her five children. Basically, "mens rea" means that you can appreciate the distinction between legal and illegal behavior.

When you are insane -- and there's no doubt Andrea Yates was and is insane -- you can't appreciate the distinction. If you can't appreciate the distinction, you are not guilty by reason of insanity.

That does not mean you go free. Andrea Yates is going to be in an institution probably for the rest of her life. Even if she no longer poses a danger to society, the prevailing politics of her case (as with John Hinckley) will keep her "off the street." But, at least she will get the treatment that she needs.

It is a tragedy of unfathomable proportions that the five Yates children died. Putting a terribly mentally ill patient into a prison would not have done nothing but compound that tragedy.

The jury did the right thing. The system worked. And all the idiotic commentary by pundits like Michael Gallagher won't change that simple truth.


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1:21 AM  

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