April 06, 2004
Choose the voices in your head wisely

I'm reading this article about the differences between Andrea Yates and Deanna Laney, and my jaw is still hanging open after finishing this section:

Dr. Park Dietz, the nationally noted psychiatrist who testified that Yates knew her actions were wrong and therefore wasn't insane under state law, testified last week that Laney was a "textbook" case of insanity.

He concluded that psychotic delusions made Laney incapable of knowing right from wrong during the killings -- the legal standard in Texas for insanity.

Dietz called Laney's description of her actions "the most consistent accounting" he had ever seen in more than a thousand criminal insanity evaluations.

"This is not like the criminals I generally get to see," he said.

Dietz considered the sources of Yates' and Laney's promptings to kill in determining whether they knew right from wrong. With Laney, it was God. With Yates, it was Satan.

Dietz testified that Laney, who interprets the Bible literally and believes that God is infallible, believed she was right to kill her children because God would never order her to do wrong.

But he concluded that Yates must have known murdering her five children was wrong if Satan ordered her to do it. He also saw Yates' attempts to conceal her murder plans as a sign that she knew it was wrong.

Wow. Just wow.

I know we're talking about legal insanity here, which is not the same as mental illness. I still have a hard time believing that the identity of the voices in these poor women's heads could be a determining factor. David Berkowitz claimed to be taking orders from his neighbor's dog. Where would that have fit in Dr. Dietz' spectrum?

I just don't know what to say any more.

UPDATE Ginger notes that she called this in the comments here. Obviously, I was too gobsmacked to remember that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 06, 2004 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

Crazy nuts who take their religion seriously. Hard for secularists to get, eh? :)

Posted by: kevin whited on April 6, 2004 7:33 AM

Kidding aside, it seems to me that one could argue that if a devout Bible literalist like Andrea Yates is taking orders from Satan, then almost by definition she's lost the ability to tell right from wrong. Like I said, I'm boggled that Park Dietz sees it differently.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on April 6, 2004 7:56 AM

So if the voices in your head are God, then you're crazy, and if the voices are Satan, you're a *sane*, cold-blooded killer?

The only thing that is remote sane (pun intended) about this distinction is that you *expect* orders to kill from Satan, but not from God.

Posted by: Tim on April 6, 2004 8:01 AM

This might be one of the nuttiest things I've heard of in awhile. Why does religion help interpret an insanity defense. God versus Satan? Thanks for the post Charles. I really didn't know much about this case until the last two days. My girlfriend asked me why she got insanity and Yates didn't. Now I know.

Posted by: sean on April 6, 2004 8:45 AM

I only hope that this was a very watered down version of the deciding factor(s).

Without any of the details to go on, in my opinion, anyone who murders their own children is, by definition, insane.

Posted by: elizabeth on April 6, 2004 9:22 AM

As blogospherian types are wont to say, Advantage: me! I understood that perfectly (and, I believe, said so in your comments) when I read about it the first time.

I hope Andrea Yates' lawyers use this to discredit his testimony in the appeals process. Deitz's religious beliefs, which are what's at issue here, should have nothing to do with whether or not Yates or Laney is insane.

Posted by: Ginger on April 6, 2004 9:55 AM

What will probably help Andrea Yates' appeal is not the question of where the voices were coming from, but from the fact that during the Laney trial, it was revealed that she called 911 after the attacks. To my mind, that shows the ability to determine right from wrong.

It might help if the standard for legal insanity reflected the standard for being committed to a state psychiatric hospital. In New York, for example, two doctors and a judge have to determine that you are an "imminent" danger to yourself or to someone else in order to be committed. Using that guideline, the argument can be made that Yates and Laney were both insane.

Posted by: William Hughes on April 6, 2004 10:23 AM

If I remember correctly, both Laney and Yates called 911 after their attacks.

Believe it or not, the criminal law in Texas--especially with respect to mental illness--is exactly this screwed up.

Of course, I may be wrong, but I generally think that anyone who kills their children because voices in their head told them to do so is by definition insane.

Posted by: Kenneth Fair on April 6, 2004 10:32 AM

Here's my $.01 worth. Both Yates and Laney were represented by attorneys whose job was to either keep them off death row or out of prison, or to just walk free through an outright acquittal by a jury. Since the last idea probably wasn't going to happen since they both confessed, the attorneys did exactly what they were paid to do. I'm not defending either woman or their attorneys, I'm just saying that's the way things are in the judicial system. My biggest question in the Laney case is this: who is going to decide that she's all better and able to live in society again? That's the scariest part to me.

Posted by: Alan W on April 6, 2004 10:55 AM

As I understand it, Yates' belief was that if she didn't kill her children, they would be influenced by Satan and go to Hell instead of Heaven. She also seemed to believe she had influencing forces from Satan in her. During interviews with Park Dietz, she said she knew she would be condemned for her actions by her husband, society, and God. Park Dietz believed Andrea Yates was mentally ill, but she did know at the time of the murders that her actions were wrong.

Laney, on the other hand, believed she was given a direct order by God to kill her children and she believed her actions were right...not wrong. She also believed that she and Yates would lead the world after a great catastrophe.

That is all the jury needed to know...Did the individual in question believe in a wrongness of action at the time the offense ocurred?

Posted by: Jane J on September 6, 2004 1:54 PM

I totally support Andrea Yates in gaining freedom one day she does not deserve to be in prison , after all thats where she has been for SO many years. Her legal team are exceptional human beings. If I understand '' religion '' we are not to ''judge'' and we are also to ''forgive''. Andrea has to live with what she did through her mental illness to her children... can you only imagine THAT pain ?? I as a mother forgive her. I wish for her much ''internal peace'' and freedom and to be treated with respect and understanding of a person with a SERIOUS mental illness which now through the kindness and caring of a lawyer name George Andrea will be able to have a quality future.

And a comment re: the Dr who evaluated Andrea for the procecution , Dr Dietz ?? it is clear why you do not have a '' private practice '' you would not have any patients.

MJ in Canada

Posted by: Maggie R on February 2, 2006 2:17 PM