On the one hand, I suppose I should be glad that one of the prosecutors in the Andrea Yates case is now telling health care professionals that Yates was very, very sick when she killed her children.
Andrea Yates had one last chance to recover in time from the postpartum depression that had tortured her for years, one of her prosecutors said Tuesday.
But Yates lost that chance when she was released from a hospital in League City, while she was dangerously delusional, Joseph S. Owmby told the 2003 Child Abuse Conference at the Holiday Inn Riverwalk.
Owmby, a Harris County assistant district attorney who helped prosecute Yates for capital murder last year, told the group of about 200 area mental health and law enforcement professionals that had Yates received more hospital treatment for her depression and psychosis, she probably wouldn't have murdered her children.
The psychiatrist who treated her at the hospital, Dr. Mohammad Saeed, testified that he decided to take Yates off her anti-psychotic medication and testified that he saw no evidence she was psychotic when he examined her on June 18, 2001, two days before she drowned the children.
What happened two weeks after Yates' release is a frightening example of how postpartum depression and psychosis can lead to severe child abuse, Owmby said.
Here's a quote from a rant by Chron Editorial Board member James Gibbons after Andrea Yates was sentenced, in which he notes that Yates seems to be the only person capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, which was the determining factor in her being found legally sane:
The Harris County district attorney, Chuck Rosenthal, parades around with a "What would Jesus do?" bracelet on his wrist, but his reflex action was to seek the death penalty for a woman who suffers acute psychosis. He's too clueless to see the contradiction.
Obviously Rosenthal is too impaired to know right from wrong. It would be a healthy start if the district attorney would give some indication he could distinguish the crucified from the crucifiers.
The defense and prosecution agreed Andrea Yates was psychotic before she killed her children and was psychotic afterward. But the prosecution alone maintained that Yates suddenly became sufficiently sane while she was performing her tragic acts - sane enough to control her actions - to justify her execution or life imprisonment. The jury preferred to give her life in prison.
Setting aside right and wrong, anyone who would give credence to this theory of temporary sanity - and every man and woman on the jury did - obviously has difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction and the plausible from the implausible.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Joe Owmby contended that Yates had the civic duty to seek help from the clergy as an alternative to murder. People who actually believe patients with the most severe mental illnesses have a duty to identify and seek out the help they need cannot be relied on to know the difference between right and wrong.
Looking back, I see that when I first wrote about the Yates trial, I was a lot more ambivalent than I am now. I can't point to any one reason for my shift in opinion - in retrospect, I think I was trying a little too hard last year to see things from the prosecution's perspective. I think my hypothetical question ("If Yates' erratic and ultimately lethal behavior had been caused by a brain tumor, would you feel differently about her?") is still one that's worth contemplating.
"In your jobs, you have the opportunity to see women suffering from postpartum mental illness and to get them the proper treatment they and their families deserve," Owmby said.