[DP] Fw. news
Laura and Bill
lkb4003 at labs.tamu.edu
Sun Mar 24 21:23:27 CST 2002
Date: Fri, 22 Mar 2002 13:09:08 -0600 (CST)
From: Rick Halperin <rhalperi at post.cis.smu.edu>
Subject: death penalty news---TEXAS
Texas justice isn't same as American justice
The Andrea Yates trial meant a lot of things to a lot of different
It spurred a national debate over how the mentally ill are treated in our
justice system. It generated much awareness and discussion of the nature
of post-partum illnesses, schizophrenia and even filicide -- the
troubling phenomenon in which parents kill their own children. It became
a symbol for both victims' and women's rights groups. And, of course, it
focused national attention on the insanity defense.
These are all positives to come out of such a negative event.
If even one troubled family asks for and receives help as a result of
knowing just how bad mental illness can become -- if one husband or wife
thinks of the horror that can happen in a home when depression and
psychosis aren't properly treated -- Mrs. Yates will not have killed in
And if even one person who followed the trial decides to help mentally
ill people get help before they do harm -- if just one person is moved to
action by the inconceivability of what this loving Houston mother did to
her 5 children in June -- those children will not have drowned utterly in
The result of the Yates trial in no way represents a national referendum
on the social, legal and medical issues raised by the case.
If Andrea Yates had drowned her children in another state, the result
easily could have been different. Had she even drowned her children in a
different Texas county, the result might have been different. And had
another trial judge been assigned to her case instead of one who had
spent 13 years as a prosecutor, Mrs. Yates might have had more of a
fighting chance to succeed.
The same is true for jury selection. Had defense attorneys not gambled
and lost in their belief that women would be more sympathetic to a
troubled mother -- there were 8 women and 4 men on the jury -- the jury
might have taken more than 3 hours to find her guilty. Or jurors might
not have found her guilty at all.
Like any other trial of any other defendant in any other case in the
country, the Yates trial was a product not only of the evidence and the
law but also of its environment and the personalities involved. The
precise confluence of events and people probably will never be repeated.
That's why no 2 cases are ever the same and why people around the world
would be best served by not reading too much into what this judge, these
prosecutors, these experts and these jurors have wrought.
That Mrs. Yates was found guilty in a legal blink of an eye after a
2-week-long trial doesn't presage the end of the insanity defense around
the country; it's not a body blow to mental health advocates; it won't
relegate post-partum depression diagnoses to the scrap heap of medical
history. It's 1 verdict in one jurisdiction by 1 jury presided over by 1
In fact, having covered the trial, I think the verdict and how it was
reached say far more about Texas than about Mrs. Yates, who is still
It says that a majority of the people who live in Texas have made a
collective decision to render their version of justice in a particularly
tough way. It says that Texas society does not look ill upon a jury that
would spend such a short amount of time deliberating -- the word itself
connotes a slow, simmering process -- when so much is at stake. It says
that experts in general and doctors in particular aren't to be trusted
over good old-fashioned horse sense.
If the country's in an uproar over how Mrs. Yates has been treated, it
shouldn't be. It's not like Texas justice is purely and wholly American
justice. There are plenty of other states in this nation with broader
definitions of legal insanity and less demanding ideas of crime and
punishment and justice.
There are plenty of places where Mrs. Yates wouldn't even have been
charged, much less convicted so quickly and sentenced to life. And there
are plenty of good legal and political reasons why. When you consider the
fabric of our state laws, we are almost as diverse a nation legally as we
are ethnically, politically, socially and culturally.
So if Texans want to gut their insanity defense in word and deed, they
are perfectly entitled to. If Texas jurors want to show little mercy to
the pitiful, they are entitled to. And if the people of Texas want to
change this dynamic in the law, they are entitled to through the ballot
box and the soapbox.
But if the good people of Texas don't want to change these things, if
they are happy with the way their criminal justice system dispenses
justice, they are perfectly entitled to let things be. Whether it is
justice or judges, verdicts or laws, outsider perceptions or internal
realities, you usually get what you deserve.
(source: Column; Andrew Cohen, who covered the Andrea Yates trial as a
legal analyst and commentator; Baltimore Sun)
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