[DP] Andrea Yates clippings
Laura and Bill
lkb4003 at labs.tamu.edu
Fri Mar 15 07:07:21 CST 2002
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2002 19:21:33 -0600 (CST)
From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi at post.cis.smu.edu>
Subject: death penalty news--- TEXAS
Texas law leaves jurors with flawed choice
Within days, a Texas jury will face the starkest of decisions in the
trial of Andrea Pia Yates, who drowned her 5 young children. Should
Yates, plagued by mental problems, be sentenced to life in prison or even
to death? Or should she be sent to a mental institution from which she
could be released after an unspecified period? Even a snippet of the
conflicting testimony presented during the past 3 weeks shows why this
case cries out for a 3rd option.
If Yates, as her lawyers contend, was driven by delusions that she was
saving her 5 children from hell, then criminal conviction is unjust and
cruel. But if she is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Texas law
neither guarantees mental treatment for a specified period nor fully
protects the public against a precipitous release.
A few states have found an alternative that ensures specific treatment
and protects public safety. Their laws set strict conditions for a
patient's release from a mental institution and require continued state
The reforms gained momentum in the 1980s because of widespread concern
that John W. Hinckley Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity for
the attempted assassination of President Reagan. New restrictions ended
the most blatant abuses of the insanity defense, but most states
overlooked a tougher dilemma: How to provide treatment and protect
society when someone, such as Yates, is guilty and mentally ill.
For instance, if Yates' insanity defense succeeds, Texas legal experts
say, she would surely be committed to a secure treatment center for
years, and release would be difficult. But no law keeps doctors from
transferring her to a less-secure facility or giving her a weekend pass
without court permission. Nor will a state agency necessarily keep watch
after her release.
Oregon, by contrast, offers a model for protecting against similar
problems. Under its innovative mandates:
* Defendants found ''guilty except for insanity'' must get treatment and
are placed under the jurisdiction of a state board for the same period
they would have served in prison. This ensures that violent offenders are
supervised for periods commensurate with their crime.
* The review board includes two mental-health experts, a lawyer, a person
with corrections expertise and a public representative; their 1st duty is
* Defendants are released under strict conditions and can be returned to
a treatment center, ensuring that they don't slip back into dangerous
* Funds are available to pay private psychiatrists to see defendants
A few other states, including Connecticut and Maryland, have adopted
similarly protective laws. More, however, have glossed over the problem,
offering an alternative verdict of ''guilty but mentally ill.'' The
finding simply marks defendants as mentally ill, but generally sends them
to prison, often without treatment. While the verdict may make jurors
feel good, it does little to fix a flawed system.
Few would seriously argue that Yates is sane. She twice tried suicide,
was released from a mental hospital weeks before the killings and then
was taken off anti-psychotic drugs by her psychiatrist. Yet even Yates
agrees that she is responsible for five violent deaths.
She is guilty, and she is sick. The real crime is that Texas doesn't
offer jurors a choice in verdicts that could address both
problems.Today's debate: Yates verdict Death? Innocent by reason of
insanity? Other states find 3rd way.
(source: USA Today)
Remember crimes' brutality
A Texas jury will soon decide whether Andrea Yates was sane when she
killed her 5 children. If the jury and court decide that she was sane,
they have the potential for sentencing her to death.
Ordinary, Americans are inclined to automatically think that anyone who
illegally takes a human life must be crazy. But the horrible way that
Yates murdered her children is utterly incomprehensible to most people.
The one person in the world we expect to be most responsible for the
safety of children, their mother, brutally overcame her resistance and
violently killed them one by one. It didn't make any difference to these
happy, innocent children whether their mother was legally sane or crazy.
These youngsters were robbed of their lives.
Whatever her sentence, this woman must never again be allowed in open
One reason Americans so strongly support the death penalty for heinous
crimes is that we have learned that predicting future human behavior is
far from a precise science. Many times, years after the public outcry had
died down in sensational murders, we have seen killers whom we thought
were locked up for life released because ''experts'' declared them cured
of mental illness. Or we're told that their violence is now controlled by
Only when allegedly rehabilitated killers claimed new victims after being
released did we learn that the experts were wrong, or that the murderers
neglected to take the medicine required to keep their violence under control.
Mrs. Yates, like the rest of us, deserves due process of law. But the
fundamental duty of government is to keep people like her from harming
us. We can't bring the Yates children back to life, but let's hope the
criminal-justice process in Texas will prevent this woman from ever
hurting anyone else.
(source: Op-ed, USA Today, March 11---Joseph D. McNamara, retired police
chief of San Jose, Calif., is a research fellow at the Hoover
Institution, Stanford University)
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 10:18:24 -0600 (CST)
From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi at post.cis.smu.edu>
Subject: death penalty news---TEXAS
What's in store for Yates in prison?
Having been convicted of capital murder, Andrea Yates faces a certainty
of prison. The only question is how long she'll be there.
The two sentencing possibilities for the jury are life with a 40-year
minimum stay, or execution by lethal injection. In either case, she will
be a more demanding inmate than most.
Even though it did not amount to a successful insanity defense, Yates'
mental illness is irrefutable and will have to be treated.
"I think it's highly likely that she would end up in that category of
inmate that costs the state $30,000 to $50,000 a year to house," said Joe
Lovelace, a public policy adviser to the Texas chapter of the National
Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "They have to have special attention paid
After her transfer to prison, Yates will undergo diagnostic evaluation
for 6 to 8 weeks. If she is given a life sentence, that evaluation will
be done at one of the two psychiatric units that serve women, in Rusk or
Lubbock. If she is sentenced to death, the evaluation will take place on
the women's death row in Gatesville.
Prison officials say Yates will receive the same treatment and medication
she would in the free world. Even if she is on death row, she would be
transferred to a psychiatric unit whenever her condition warranted it.
"It's like with Angel Maturino Resendiz," prison system spokesman Larry
Fitzgerald said of the infamous rail-car killer, who is mentally ill.
"He's a cutter. He cuts himself. And every time he does, we're required
to send him down to (a psych unit) because he's a danger to himself."
If sentenced to life, Yates likely would remain at a psychiatric unit
until doctors decide her condition has improved to the point she should
be placed in the general prison population. But that may never happen.
"I would expect that she would be segregated," Lovelace said.
And that could be the best thing for her.
"The more stress that she is exposed to, the higher likelihood that she
will deteriorate and suffer a higher number of psychotic events," he
said. "In that condition, inmates often can't function well and follow
the rules and obey the regimen. They end up in administrative segregation
for punishment, in numbers disproportionate to other inmates."
If Yates is sentenced to death, the state would likely monitor her mental
health closely. Although executing the mentally ill is permissible under
law, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the condemned inmate must be
competent at the time of execution.
That means Yates must be aware of and understand the reason she is being
punished. That would not normally be a problem, but if she stops taking
her medication and lapses into psychosis, she may have little grasp of
reality. And perversely, that may be the hope of those who want to save
"If you're trying to save a person from being executed, the lawyers would
have to advise her to cease medication and deteriorate to the point where
the state couldn't take her life," Lovelace said.
Attorneys for Russell Weston, the gunman accused of killing 2 policemen
in a rampage at the U.S. Capitol in 1998, have gone one better. They have
opposed forced medication for Weston to keep him from being tried and
exposed to a potential death penalty. Yates' attorneys chose to allow her
The state cannot forcibly medicate a prisoner unless he is a threat to
himself or others. On death row, where inmates are closely supervised and
segregated most of the time, the odds against that are high. It is not
easy to get a court order for forced medication.
The burden of proof of incompetence, however, is on the inmate's
attorney. Although a handful of death row inmates are unlikely to be
executed because they are obviously incompetent, proving incompetence in
court to block an execution is harder than it might seem.
Recently executed Monty Delk went to his death last month spouting
gibberish from the gurney. He claimed he was not in America but Barbados
and that he was the prison warden.
Prosecutors contended Delk was faking his mental condition, and the 5th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals signed off on the execution.
"You don't have to be very competent to be executed," said Delk's
attorney, John Wright.
Odds are, it will not come down to such matters with Yates. A death
sentence would be all but unprecedented for a mentally ill woman who
killed her children.
Dr. Phillip Resnick, a forensic psychiatrist at Case Western Reserve
University who has worked with many mothers who killed their children,
said long before the Yates trial that he would be surprised if the jury
sentenced her to death -- especially with Yates' husband asking for
"Even if the jury rejects insanity, the psychological factors are usually
mitigating enough that it is very rare for them to get the death
penalty," said Resnick, who testified for the defense in Yates' case.
How much mercy a life sentence represents is open to question. Resnick
said Yates is in for a rough time even if she is spared the needle.
"Even if they are found insane, they have a hard time forgiving
themselves," he said. "They may recognize they were out of their mind at
the time, but they will blame themselves for not getting help earlier,
for not staying on their medication or whatever. The incidence of suicide
attempts is not small."
Mothers who kill their children during a psychotic episode have a hard
time coping with their despair.
"When you kill your children out of love, there's not only the
self-torture for having done it, but also the grief at losing your
children," he said. "So there's a tremendous double whammy. There's an
intense missing of them."
Attorney Jim Leitner said imprisonment is the only reason his former
client, Linda Carr, is still alive. Carr, a substitute teacher, snapped
one day in February 2000 and shot her daughter and son for no reason. She
offered a guilty plea in exchange for a 35-year sentence.
"I have no doubt that if she had been found not guilty by reason of
insanity, she'd have killed herself within six months," Leitner said.
Acquittal not equal to free for the insane---Time in hospital could have
been life or weeks
Andrea Yates would not have been freed even if she had been acquitted.
Though murky in places, state law would have allowed the courts to
control the rest of her life.
The law also barred any mention to jurors of what Yates' future would
have been like had she been acquitted. But, depending on how she
responded to medication and other treatment, Yates could have been
committed to state mental health institutions for the rest of her life.
Or she could have gained her liberty as a cured woman in a matter of
Had the jury acquitted her, Yates' fate would have rested with Judge
Belinda Hill or her successors on the 230th state district court bench.
Decisions on her fate would have relied on medical evidence, ignoring the
severity of her actions and the length of any prison sentence she would
have received, experts say.
Yates likely would have been sent to the state's only high-security
facility for the mentally ill -- the North Texas State Hospital branch in
Vernon, near the Oklahoma border. That is where psychiatrists and other
employees of the state Mental Health and Mental Retardation Department
evaluate those acquitted of violent crimes by reason of insanity.
Most of the hospital's 350 or so patients are there not because they have
been acquitted of a crime, but because of a mental illness that makes
them dangerous to themselves or others. As of last month, a spokesman
said, the hospital had 67 female patients, 3 of whom were acquitted of
Surrounded by a 14-foot fence and shadowed by guard towers, the Vernon
campus of one-story brick buildings is a place where many patients attend
group therapy, wear their own clothing and accept visitors.
It is a place for treatment rather than punishment -- a hospital rather
than a prison. By law, the facility's mission is to treat patients for
only as long as it is necessary.
"You get there, and you are all handcuffed. Then you walk in the door and
the handcuffs come off," hospital spokesman Gerald McLain said.
Taken literally, state law says anyone acquitted of a violent crime by
reason of insanity must be sent to Vernon for evaluation -- regardless of
whether they remain mentally ill.
But the most common interpretation of the law calls for the judge or jury
to first decide whether the patient's current condition requires
commitment to a state mental health facility, according to MHMR lawyer
"It's a couple of the most confusing statutes you would ever want to
read," he said.
Under the interpretation requiring the judge to take initial action, Hill
would have had 30 days to conduct a hearing on Yates' mental condition.
The law would have allowed Hill to keep Yates in jail until the hearing
even though she no longer faced criminal charges.
Yates and her lawyers would have decided whether the commitment decision
would have been made by Hill or a jury -- a different jury from the 1
that tried her. The judge or jury would have had to consider at least 2
professional evaluations of Yates' mental health before deciding.
Mental illness alone is not sufficient reason for involuntary commitment.
The patient also must be a danger to herself or others or unable to
function on her own, according to Johnson and other experts.
If Yates' condition didn't meet the test for involuntary commitment,
experts say she could no longer have been held against her will, but that
the court could have continued to monitor her case.
If she had been committed, her case would have come back to court after
90 days for the judge to decide whether to recommit her for as much as a
year. At the expiration of each commitment, the judge would again have
had the option of recommitting her for as much as another year.
If and when Yates no longer met the requirements for commitment, the
judge still could have placed conditions on her freedom, such as a
requirement that she continue to receive psychiatric care.
Patients at Vernon have specific rights. State law requires that they be
transferred to a "nonsecurity" state mental health facility within 60
days unless a review board of five experts decides they are "manifestly
Houston psychiatrist Fred Fason, who has testified in local cases
involving insanity pleas but did not appear in the Yates case, said he
believes Yates would no longer have been considered dangerous after her
initial 2-month evaluation period.
The average stay at Vernon is 101 days. After leaving Vernon, most
patients from Harris County are sent to the similar-size Rusk State
Hospital in Cherokee County in East Texas, where the average stay is 56
A sign on the Rusk grounds recently detailed the staff's credo, with
phrases such as "Our patients are the reason we are here" and "Make sure
they are satisfied."
Some former criminal defendants from Harris County have remained at Rusk
for several years or up until their death, according to Fason. But in one
local case, a man acquitted of a 1991 killing by reason of insanity was
treated by state mental health institutions, released and later arrested
in another killing in 1995. He was again acquitted by reason of insanity
and recommitted to Rusk.
The treatment at Rusk has been a source of friction between local judges
"People go up there, they are sent back quickly to Harris County (with
treatment experts) saying they are well, they come into court, and they
don't appear to be well to the common citizen," state District Judge Ted
Poe said. "And so we go through the whole procedure again to send them
Poe said many patients improve quickly with medication provided by state
institutions but deteriorate just as quickly after their release because
they fail to continue the medications.
"I don't know that the system has figured out the answers," he said.
But Johnson, the MHMRA lawyer, said the courts and mental health
professionals often see cases differently because their work is
different. Law enforcement sees a defendant who should be in prison, he
said, and mental health workers see a patient needing medical attention.
"I don't think you are ever going to see total agreement," Johnson said.
The high-security evaluation program for those acquitted of violent
crimes by reason of insanity was transferred from Rusk to Vernon in 1986.
Built in 1969 to house the state's oldest mental patients, the Vernon
facility is the newest of the state's nine such hospitals. It employs
1,100 people in a city of 11,660. Its 60-acre campus is surrounded by an
apartment complex, a community college, churches and farms.
Some points on the treatment of those acquitted by insanity remain fuzzy.
If a judge releases a patient from a state institution and requires them
to seek psychiatric care while free, could the judge also order the
patient to stay away from certain places or people?
The law "doesn't say yea or nay," Johnson said. "It is just silent."
Some people also were concerned that a freed Yates could have become
pregnant again. And although the state couldn't have prevented her from
having more children, experts say, it would have had a say in who would
have raised them.
"That's what (Children's Protective Services) is for," said J. Ray Hays,
a psychologist and lawyer with the University of Texas-Harris County
Psychiatric Center. "You would not let her parent again."
Judy Hay, a spokeswoman for Harris County CPS, said state law allows the
agency to take a newborn into custody before it leaves the hospital.
Afterwards, CPS must go before a family law judge and prove that it acted
to protect the child.
"The judge might say, `Why not let Mom take the baby home?,' " Hay said.
"Then we'd have to show a reasonable person would agree there was enough
risk in the home (that) the child had to come into custody."
CPS would still have had the authority to evaluate the case even if Yates
had been acquitted, Hay said. She said the majority of CPS clients have
never been prosecuted.
Victims' rights group praises verdict; Yates backers: Mental illness
A victims' rights group is applauding the guilty verdict returned
Thursday against Andrea Pia Yates, the 37-year-old Clear Lake homemaker
who confessed to drowning her 5 children June 20.
But Yates supporters said they were saddened by the verdict and are
hopeful she will be spared from execution.
"I believe it was the absolute perfect verdict," said Dianne Clements,
president of the Houston victims' rights group Justice for All.
"I have nothing but praise for the 2 prosecutors because in all of this,
we didn't have someone to speak for the children," she said. "But they
spoke for the 5 children, and the jury heard them."
Clements said she believes Yates deserves the death penalty.
"I've said all along that it would be very difficult to find this woman
guilty and not give her the death penalty," she said.
Despite evidence of Yates' mental illness, Clements said she believes
Yates would continue to be a danger to herself and others if sentenced to
life in prison.
"I think the very horridness of the nature of the crime clearly defines
her dangerousness," Clements said.
But supporters said Yates should be spared because she was so mentally
ill that she lost her ability for rational thought.
Prosecutors argued that Yates knew it was wrong to drown her children but
made a conscious decision to do so anyway.
Yates' attorneys argued she was innocent by reason of insanity.
"I'm disappointed and shocked, but not surprised because of where the
trial took place and the way the law is written in Texas," said Jane
Honikman, founding director of Postpartum Support International.
"In some states, it's easier for the defense to raise this kind of plea.
But apparently not in Texas. As an organization, we are very upset.
"The rest of the world is more civilized in terms of understanding mental
illness. They don't execute the mentally ill."
Honikman said Yates was deprived of the care necessary to prevent the
"Who is guilty here?" she asked. "Everyone who knew her illness and knew
she was alone with these children are guilty. This never would have
happened if she had received the appropriate treatment."
Honikman said Yates should be sentenced to treatment in a mental health
Therapist Iris Silvers also said she was disheartened by the verdict.
"I think people don't understand mental illness at all," she said. "And I
think the way the law is written is not helpful."
David Elliot, the communications director for the National Coalition to
Abolish the Death Penalty, said the Yates case should make the public
more aware and more understanding of mental illnesses.
However, he said he was disappointed that the jury did not return a
verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
Jurors will now decide whether to sentence Yates to life in prison or
execution by lethal injection.
"Society really failed Andrea Yates in not setting up a better treatment
system for her," Elliot said. "Now society wants to execute her, and
that's a real tragedy."
Annette Lamoreaux, East Texas regional director of the American Civil
Liberties Union, said that, given the history of Harris County juries,
she was not surprised by the guilty verdict.
"I hope the jury has every intention of giving her a life sentence and
had that in mind when they found her guilty," she said.
(source for all: Houston Chronicle)
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 10:59:50 -0600 (CST)
From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi at post.cis.smu.edu>
Subject: death penalty news---TEXAS
Unjust Rules for Insanity---By JENNIFER S. BARD
Andrea Yates attempted suicide twice in 1999 and reported suicidal
impulses again not long before the day last June when she drowned her
children in a bathtub. She was hospitalized several times for mental
illness; the last time her psychiatrist had threatened to force her
commitment in court. Both the prosecution and the defense in her murder
trial in Texas agree that she is severely mentally ill. Yet under Texas
law all this was insufficient to produce a verdict of not guilty by
reason of insanity, and yesterday Andrea Yates was found guilty of
The Yates case exposes serious flaws in how Texas - like most other
states - determines criminal responsibility. Under an insanity defense,
Mrs. Yates was required to prove in her trial not that she was sane at
the time of the killings, but that she did not know she was committing a
crime or doing wrong.
The insanity defense has long been controversial. In 1843, when Daniel
M'naghten was acquitted by reason of insanity in the murder of the
English prime minister's secretary during an attempted assassination,
Queen Victoria called for a reappraisal of the law. The result was a
standard, adopted not only in England but in American courts, which can
be summarized in a single question: Did the defendant know his conduct
was wrong at the time he committed the crime? Unless a person was so out
of touch with reality that he didn't know he was committing a crime, he
could be found criminally responsible despite suffering from severe
In the 1970's, a more realistic standard was adopted by many states,
including Texas. Even if the defendant knew the conduct was wrong, he
would not be found guilty if he had been "incapable of conforming his
conduct" to the requirements of the law. This standard recognized that as
a result of mental illness an individual might know he or she is doing
wrong but lack the ability to keep from doing it.
Then John Hinckley, trying to murder President Ronald Reagan, shot and
wounded the president and three other men in 1981. Mr. Hinckley's
acquittal by reason of insanity in 1982 shocked the nation. The next year
Texas dropped the element of "conforming conduct" and reverted to a
strict "knowledge-based" standard almost like the old M'Naghten rule.
In the case of Andrea Yates, the prosecution focused narrowly on the
question of what she knew at the time of the killings. Her call to 911
and her admission to police officers that she expected to be punished by
the criminal justice system were pivotal evidence for the prosecutors.
The details of her knowledge were important; her mental illness at the
time was not.
Mrs. Yates has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, not just postpartum
depression. Her family apparently never realized the depth of her
delusions; her doctors failed to see that she was a danger to others, and
one took her off her antipsychotic medication. She told police that she
had been a bad mother and told later interviewers that the only way to
save her children from the devil was to kill them. Her plea of not guilty
by reason of insanity would have been highly persuasive if the standard
were her ability to conform her conduct to the law. By the prevailing
legal standards, however, how she felt and her ability to control her
behavior could not be taken into account.
One way a prosecutor might describe this standard to a jury is to ask
whether the defendant would have committed the crime if a police officer
had been present in the room. Putting the issue that way makes the burden
on the defense a heavy one. Mrs. Yates waited until she was alone to
drown her children, one by one. When she finished, she called the police.
As a matter of law, it appears that she knew she was drowning her
children. And that's the standard in Texas: knowledge.
That a person as mentally ill as Andrea Yates could face the death
penalty - as she does now - shows how desperately flawed the
knowledge-based insanity defense is. If, as is the case here, it is
widely agreed that a defendant suffers from a severe mental illness,
shouldn't such a disability diminish that person's legal responsibility?
(source: Op-ed, New York Times; Jennifer S. Bard, a lawyer trained in
public health, teaches at the Institute for the Medical Humanities of the
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston)
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