Monday, July 24, 2006

Legal Insanity

Today the jury in the Andrea Yates trial began deliberating.

Verdicts are supposed to reflect the juries' detemination of facts and truth. Generally witnesses testify and lawyers argue conflicting versions of what occurred. The jury must then sort through the evidence,testimony and arguements to determine the truth.

But the odd thing about cases where insanity is the defense is that both prosecutors and defense attorney generally agree about what happened.

In the Yates case there was no question about what happened at the Yates home when Andrea killed her children. Everyone agreed that Andrea had a very troubling history of severe mental illness and was delusional and psychotic shortly before and shortly after she killed her children.

Yet this jury has an exteremely difficult job to do. They have to make sense of a charge and laws that make no sense.

Their verdict is supposed to reflect whether they believe Andrea was too insane to know right from wrong when she killed her children. Whether they are supposed to base that decision on what Andrea thought was wrong according to the Texas Penal Code, God, the devil, the voices in her head or her own values will remain unclear.

The verdict from the first trial focused a national spotlight on the problems with Texas insanity laws. Countless attempts were made before and after that verdict by advocates in the criminal justice and mental health fields to change Texas laws.

The truth is that in cases where violence has occured juries are always going to be afraid to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity regardless of whether they believe the accused to be insane. There is fear that without adequate treatment and supervison, violent acts will be repeated. And there is no way to assure jurors that the person sitting in that courtroom will be supervised, treated or prevented from hurting anyone else.

Texas laws fall woefully short of assuring treatment options for it's mentally ill citizens in the free world or in the criminal justice system.

What frightens me the most is knowing how many other severely mentally ill persons there are in Texas who are not getting treatment. The Texas legislature has consistently cut funding to MHMR resulting in eliminating treatment options for thousands of mentally ill Texans. There are countless other tragedies of the magnitude of this case that could be prevented but will not be.


Anonymous said...


Outstanding post and information! It is my understanding that a large majority of the 12+ homeless people are suffering from mental illness. What makes it even sadder is many have estimated that as many as 2/3rds of the homeless are women and kids??? It seems such a disgrace we the richest country on earth , that can send aid and money around the world, see little or no wrong in turning our backs on our own people???? We can waste 69 BILLION dollars a year on a known failure. That ruins entire families and the lives of countless Americans simply for their choices and not their actions? Yet we can't find money for those with a known and real need? What does that say for us as a people and a country???

Rusty White

Anonymous said...


That is 12+ " MILLION " homeless!!

Anonymous said...

The fact that she hid her murderous intent from everyone, including her victims, proves she knew what she was doing was wrong. Crafting the deceit in advance proves premeditation.

No illness caused her crime, and no illness frees her of blame.

Anonymous said...

anonymous --

If Yates is found to have been insane, she is non compos mentis, and not legally responsible for her actions.

You argue fiatically that she is. Fortunately for all of us, this sort of thing is decided in an open hearing before a judge and jury, and not by the common sense of rubberneckers.

Vengeance belongs not to law enforcement, but to the God of Isiaiah, whose judgment is sure. That our system of law has codified mercy for the non compos mentis, is a refinement of piety, even if it leads to perverse results. Such as murderers not being punished for their crimes.

Mercy for the guilty is the main Christological theme. Consider the thief next to the crucified Christ, whose expiation amounted to a sprinkling of sincere words.

To assume that the exculpation of Yates would preclude any ultimate punishment or moral reckoning, expresses atheism at best and nihilism at worst.

Anonymous said...

Yates has been found not guilty by reason of insanity: