Jewish World Review August 13, 2001/ 24 Menachem-Av 5761
Nevertheless, the decision by prosecutors to seek the death penalty for Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who is charged with drowning her five children, makes no sense. This woman isn't a criminal; she's a nut!
We don't know why she's a nut (though we might examine her marriage for a lesson in short cuts to the asylum), and we don't care. Any mother who systematically chases down and drowns her own children, including a gangly 7-year-old boy and a helpless 6-month-old girl, is clearly out of her mind. No debate necessary.
Mental health experts who've been trying to talk to the woman since she blew a gasket June 20 say she remains in a psychotic state. Yates herself has asked family members how long she's been possessed of the devil. This question virtually never comes up in our household.
During the three weeks before the deaths of her children, Andrea was acting withdrawn and robotic, according to her bizarrely calm husband, Russell Yates. He noted that she was being treated with anti-depressant drugs, one of which, Haldol, is usually prescribed for people suffering acute psychosis, including schizophrenia and manic states.
And this was before the fifth child was born. Can you imagine? The woman was known to be mentally unstable and already had suffered bouts of serious postpartum depression. In separate incidents following the birth of her fourth child, she put a knife to her throat and tried to commit suicide by taking medicine prescribed to treat her father's Alzheimer's disease.
If only she'd been able to find a large red arrow to dangle over her head. Instead, she again became pregnant and gave birth to yet another baby. The woman was out of her mind, and no one, notably her husband, bothered to notice. So now we hope to kill her for her insanity? What we have here is contagion.
Within six months after child No. 5, the robotic and withdrawn Andrea Yates went over the far edge, and her husband appeared before television cameras as though he were discussing his winning golf stroke. "I'm mad at her for killing the children," he said, or words to that effect, "but then I'm not mad at her because I know she wasn't herself."
Somehow I kept expecting his next words to be, "Andrea was just having a bad day." Actually, Andrea was having a very bad life and her husband bears some moral, if not legal, responsibility for that. You don't take the high road when your wife has just killed your five children. Indeed, his level of understanding at that devastating juncture may shed more light on Andrea's dementia than any medical records that might surface.
In any case, the woman is insane and the death penalty would be an equally insane sentence. Even if you believe in capital punishment, which I no longer do (let's just say I'm anti-death), you'd be hard-pressed to determine that this woman is a danger to society or that she acted with malicious intent.
That's not to say she bears no responsibility for her actions. Crazy or not, she's culpable to the extent that her actions took the lives of others, and consequences come even to the insane. But a life institutionalized in an insane asylum, or whatever we call them these days, is sufficient punishment and should satisfy society's meanest member's lust for