Not guilty?

Posted: Jul 28, 2006 12:00 AM
Not guilty?

Our judicial system is broken. And somebody needs to fix it.

Consider for a moment a process that would allow a crafty, shrewd, smart defense attorney to find a way to eliminate a guilty verdict for a client who brutally and systematically murdered her five children. Then, he managed to take the open and shut case back to another jury and get the verdict that she wanted in the first place, not guilty by reason of insanity.

That’s precisely what happened in the awful tale of Andrea Yates.

Mental illness is not something we should ignore. I have heard countless stories of people anguished by a family member’s psychosis or some demon that keeps a loved one from functioning normally.

But to mount an insanity defense and ask for a jury of men and women to return a judgment of “not guilty” is asking way too much.

Why does our system have such a gross miscarriage of a verdict? “Not guilty by reason of insanity?” So now, officially and formally, Andrea Yates did not drown her five children, is that it? A few years of treatment in a mental hospital and then presto! She’s all better now, free to be released into an unsuspecting public. Perhaps she can change her name, start a new life, and maybe even re-marry.

It sickens me to think of those five beautiful little children lying in their graves. What’s even worse is to think about their desperate, horrific fight to stay alive. The medical examiner testified that this wasn’t a quick, painless death for those children. They fought hard. Noah, the oldest at 7, was found in the death tub with his tiny fists clenched, numerous bruises and internal contusions in his battered body. The 5 year old, John, still had a strand of Mama’s long, dark hair in his tiny hand.

And a Houston jury decided that this woman, a mother who waited until her husband left for work, filled up the tub and chased her children and drowned them, one by one, simply didn’t do it. She was just having a bad spell, a psychotic day. She didn’t know what she was doing. She figured she was demon possessed. Maybe she thought she was Marie Antoinette.

So she’s NOT GUILTY.

I hope and pray that if we ever catch Osama Bin Laden, he doesn’t hire George Parnham, Andrea Yates’ attorney. After all, how crazy must he be, to think that slaughtering people who love Christ is the way to meet the 70 virgins in heaven? How nuts is someone who straps bombs to his body and blows up himself and a bunch of children in a pizza parlor?

I guess our enemy terrorists are just depressed people in dire need of medications.

Our judicial system needs help. The scales of justice are enormously tipped on the side of the bad guys. Since Andrea Yates and her attorneys were allowed to shop around for the jury they wanted, why can’t the prosecutors? If a multiple child-killer can keep going back to the well to come up with a verdict that pleases her (and keeps her out of jail), why can’t the state? Oh, that’s right: double jeopardy. We only give the judicial system one chance at a guilty verdict. The murderers get multiple chances, there’s no double jeopardy rule for a not guilty verdict.

I truly believe that there are many people who fail to believe that there is true evil in the world. In our lifetime, we have watched women drown their babies, whether their names are Susan Smith or Andrea Yates; we have heard people describe terrorists as “freedom fighters”; we watch people describe our president as a Nazi storm trooper; we continually see good described as bad, right defined as wrong.

Here’s a simple solution to the unnerving spectacle of a woman drowning her five children and getting away with it: let’s throw out “not guilty by reason of insanity.” No one doubts that Andrea Yates drowned her children, least of all Andrea Yates. But even crazy people have to take responsibility for their actions, at least when they’ve recovered. To suggest that someone is innocent because they hear voices, or fight depression, or suffer from panic attacks, is to pretend that the actual crime didn’t occur.

We desperately need a new verdict in America that is fair, accurate, and sensible: GUILTY BUT INSANE. Sure, sick people do sick things. If a jury is convinced someone is mentally ill, allow them to return a guilty but insane verdict. That way, the killer can get the treatment she needs and if and when she gets healthy again, she should serve her time behind bars, like everybody should do.

Anything short of that is the real definition of insanity.