I am conflicted about how I feel about the Andrea Yates decision. (She was recently found not guilty by reason of insanity, after her guilty verdict from 2002 was overturned and she was retried.)
First and foremost, I feel profound sadness. Whatever was going on in her mind that day, 5 children were systematically drowned, one after the other, in the bathtub.
On the one hand, I feel like this is the right decision. Post partum depression and post partum psychosis are real ilnesses, and should be treated as such. More people must accept that depression (in its various forms) is not “sadness” and is not simply a matter of “willpower” but is due to actual chemical imbalances in the brain. It is a disease. I find it heartening and important that a Jury was able to see past the unspeakable horror and see the woman for what she is: diseased.
Furthermore, she will be dealing with this the rest of her life. The worst prison she can be in is the prison of her memories. Every time she experiences a moment of clarity (I honestly don’t know her mental state now), she will surely be thrust right back into the darkness as she remembers once again what she’s done.
The conflict? It’s with my retributive side. It’s the adolescent in me, whose first gut reaction when he read the story, after the shock and horror (which, by the way, is only starker now that I am a parent myself) was “fry this woman.” But the truth is, I see the value of an insanity defense. And I know the worst punishment she can get she will give to herself. This is not an evil woman. Society doesn’t benefit from seeking vengeance from her.
Society does benefit from learning from her experience, and removing the “it’s all in your head, snap out of it” stigma associated with depression and psychosis. The recent jury decision is a good step in that direction.