April 02, 2004
Park Dietz, man of opinions

I haven't really been following the trial of Deanna Laney, the East Texas woman on trial for killing two of her children by stoning them to death (a third child survived), but I did notice that everyone's favorite professional witness, Dr. Park Dietz, had made an appearance.

"In a series of experiences she came to believe God told her to kill her children," Dietz said. "She was able to give detailed information on how god told her to kill her children."

That detailed information was shown in a nearly hour long video tape of Dietz interview with Laney. It was the jury's first chance to hear from laney herself. While the video played for the jury, Laney sat staring into her lap, quietly crying. After the tape, lead defense attorney Buck Files tried to drill home the point that Dr. Dietz has never waivered in his findings.

"Do you have an opinion as to whether or not on may 10, 2003 that Deanna Laney, did not know that her conduct was wrong?" Files asked.

"I do have an opinion," answered Dietz.

"What is that opinion?" asked Files.

"It's my opinion at that time, because of her severe mental disease, Mrs. Laney did not know that her conduct was wrong," concluded Dietz.

Despite the fact that Dr. Dietz was hired by prosecutors for this case, District Attorney Matt Bingham almost seemed to spar with him a little on his answers.

"So then your conclusions are absolute?" Bingham asked. "She was absolutely insane?"

"Whether she was insane is for the jury to determine," answered Dietz.

"The point is, here's a lady that's killed two of her kids and injured a third. You cannot sit on that stand and say absolutely that she did not know her conduct was wrong," commented Bingham. "You can say in your opinion, but not absolute."

"It is my opinion," answered Dietz."

I would dearly love to know what distinguishes Deanna Laney from Andrea Yates in Dr. Dietz' mind. Maybe there is a crucial distinction that I'm missing, I don't know. But I sure would like to know.

This Tyler Morning Telegraph article does a really good job of covering the history and debate over Texas' oft-reviled insanity defense law. Andrea Yates makes an appearance here as well.

George Parnham, Mrs. Yates' defense attorney, has become one of Texas' most outspoken critics of the state's insanity standard. He argued that Mrs. Yates became psychotic as the result of postpartum depression, and thought killing her children would save them from Satan. He says he has spoken to F.R. "Buck" Files, Mrs. Laney's defense attorney, but is not part of the defense team.

"We go back to the word 'know,'" Parnham says. "Does 'know' mean a perception on the part of the sick person that society would view her actions as being illegal or wrong, but she knows them to be right? The danger is that what we do with our (Texas) standard is impose our own logic - our own logic that is unfettered by mental disease. If you're psychotic, you live in a different real world."

Parnham says that in a "utopian atmosphere," mentally ill killers could get treatment without a jury trial. "But I don't know if we're ever going to reach that," he says.

Not in my lifetime, I expect.

One last thing, from the Chron story about the Laney trial:

Prosecutors have struggled to discredit their own psychiatric witnesses to prove that Deanna Laney knew her actions were wrong and is guilty.

Above all, they tried to convince jurors that regardless of whether Deanna Laney believed she was doing right by God, she had to have known she was doing wrong by state law. Her first call, prosecutors pointed out, was to 911 to summon authorities.

Andrea Yates also called 911. Once again I ask: What's the difference between these two cases?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 02, 2004 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

My understanding is that the difference is one woman was talking to God and the other was talking to Satan.

Posted by: Ginger on April 2, 2004 11:10 AM

Hello Sir,
Very interesting entry, I'm interested to hear what you think now that she'll be getting a new trial.

Posted by: Ingrid on January 7, 2005 5:55 PM

Oh, duh. I just found your more recent stuff on this. Please ignore!

Posted by: Ingrid on January 7, 2005 7:16 PM

Some of Park Dietz's comments in the Jeffrey Dahmer documentary on A&E seemed suspect. For Example He stated that Dahmer "hated" to kill". He backed up this statement with no evidence either personal or professional. Clearly he is basing this assertion on his interview with Dahmer, for there is no other direct evidence upon which to make such a bold statement. I feel the facts and the evidence in the Dahmer DO NOT support this claim. This evidence includes 17 victims, tortured mutlated corpses,and clear and precise planning of the murders. Dietz claims that he appreciated Dahmer's openness and truthfulness during their interview. However, did it ever occur to Mr. Dietz that Dahmer may lie during part of the interview to hide some of his most sick and perverted acts against some of the victims? Dahmer lied to the police in Ohio, He also lied to the Milwalkee police (who should have saved the Laotian boy). What makes Mr. Dietz think Dahmer was being completely truthful during his interview with Dahmer?

Posted by: Sayavog on August 5, 2005 4:15 PM

Iam representing a client charged with agg murder death penalty is not in play state is relying on park dietz scheduled to get his report next week for any of you park dietz followers i am interested in any help you might want to provide in my efforts to limit dietz's effectiveness at my client's up comming trial.

thank you in advance

Posted by: david lacross on January 12, 2006 12:53 AM

Park Dietz offered sworn expert testimony about a thing that even a child could not have honestly "mistakenly" believed was true. I'm just so disappointed that a paid medical expert who makes hundreds of thousands---in fact probably well over a million dollars a year could do such a thing. What attorney would ever even dream of hiring this guy in any case now? He apparently lied about a material item tied to his ultimate opinion that this lady was guilty of capital murder. How has he explained this little prior "mistake" on cross examination in the trials he's testified in as an "expert" since then? Why would anyone ever believe anything of intended substance he's ever testified to? Why would any decent lawyer ever consider hiring him or his firm? How is he even allowed to qualify as an "expert" in his field now? Does anyone know how this man has managed to survive professionally after what happened in the Yates case? Once another jury hears he lied about a material item that he "relied upon" in formulating the bases of his ultimate opinion of criminal guilt for capital murder in a prior case, wouldn't this incline the jury to harbor reasonable doubt about the guilt of the person on trial? Or if he's testifying on behalf of a defendant, wouldn't it incline a jury to believe the defendant is guilty if the best he/she can offer is this guy's "opinion"? Just curious...

Posted by: Blown Away on July 27, 2006 3:27 AM