This is a story about two women in Texas who murdered their children.
Both women are the same age. Both were deeply religious, stay-at-home moms when they killed their children. Both women confessed.
One mother was found insane, and hospitalized in a mental institution to receive treatment. The other was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Actually, there was one way the women were different.
Deanna Laney heard God tell her to kill her children. Andrea Yates heard Satan tell her to kill her children. Guess which one got the life sentence.
Now, if you ask me, if you are hearing from any deities, demigods, or supernatural powers at all, you are a total nut job. Meshugge. I don’t care if it’s Zeus, Xenu, or Uranus talking to you. You need to be signed up for your Haldol, with maybe a lithium chaser, ASAP.
It’s not just me that would say those women were crazier than a shithouse rat, either. DSM-IV, the main diagnostic manual for psychiatrists, agrees. So, why weren’t both women sent to a mental hospital? In fact, Andrea Yates actually had a history of psychotic behavior. Her doctor urged her to not have additional children, but her church had other plans for her uterus. Yet she was found to be sane, and sentenced to life, despite plainly thinking she got voice mail from Lucifer.
What made the difference between the two verdicts? Texas law says, if you can’t tell right from wrong, then you are insane.
So, if you get a suggestion from God about killing people, and kill them thinking you’re doing God’s will–you’re insane. Because God would never ask you to do something bad.
If you get a message from Satan, and he tells you to kill someone, and you know it’s wrong and still do it–you’re sane. This line of thinking makes my head hurt.
It says a great deal about Texas that a jury would sentence a woman to prison, rather than to receive professional mental help, based on which imaginary voice she listened to.
If you want to learn more, read about the expert witness that made the difference between treatment and prison here. One of the more interesting quotes in that extended interview:
“Under Texas law, if a mentally ill person commits a murder in response to command hallucinations from God, they would surely be insane,” he said. “If they did it at the direction of the chief of police, they are arguably insane. If they believed it at the direction of a gang leader, at the direction of Napoleon, at the direction of Satan, they are not insane. Gang leaders, Napoleon and Satan do not have moral authority in Texas.”
So, on this 4th of July, I would like Americans renew our determination to keep church and state separate. Especially in the courts.