Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity a few minutes ago for the drowning deaths of her children.
And that is a good verdict, because she is clearly a very sick woman, and not the cold, calculating killer that the prosecution tried to paint her as. It's bad enough that in a high profile case like this, a prosecutor apparently motivated by his need to pander to the 'hang 'em high' mentality that he was willing to ignore even basic common sense. Andrea Yates is not a psychopathic killer, but a woman with a disease of the brain. Does she need to be confined to protect the rest of society from her? Absolutely. But should she be sent to prison for the rest of her life? Absolutely not. Even her husband Rusty, who is the father of the children she killed, asked today after the verdict why the prosecution was trying to send her to prison when what she needs is treatment. It seems that we have become so obsessed with preventing some con artist from 'gaming the system,' much like Jack Nicholson's character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that we have gone to the point where the truly sick are sent to prison, as she was after being found guilty after her first trial. But what has happened since has shown that our whole system is rotten to the core, and it is fortunate that after the case was over, the rottenness was discovered and she was given a new trial.
What we have seen in that case is a flaw in our justice system. Yates was found guilty at her first trial. The reason was largely because of the testimony of an 'expert,' Dr. Park Dietz, who claimed that she was basing her actions on a television show, an episode of 'Law and Order' in which a woman who drowned her children was acquitted by reason of insanity. Obviously, if this were true, then that would be enough to prove that she had thought things through ahead of time and had a plan to kill the children, and likely that her claims to insanity were part of a broader plan. That would be enough to show criminal intent and that is why the first jury found her guilty. Only one problem. The episode in question never existed. So either Dr. Dietz made it up, or he didn't even bother to verify what may have been a rumor he heard. Either way, it raises troubling questions about so-called 'experts' testifying on the stand.
The truth is, that most insanity claims fail in court. But the broader issue raised is that with both sides in a court case often able to call 'hired guns' who will testify as 'experts' to whatever the side that is paying them wants, our court system has become bastardized to the point where it is not so much about trying to determine whether a person is guilty and the best course of action, as about who can simply put on the best 'expert' At the very least we should have the right to expect the experts to BE experts.
And if a person is as sick as Andrea Yates, most prosecutors will arrange a plea deal. That might have happened here had the case not made national headlines, and especially in Texas any prosecutor who agreed to it, even if it was the right thing to do, would be roasted alive in the court of public opinion.