Tuesday, March 19, 2002

DON'T GO AWAY MAD... Before the name Andrea Yates sails off the headline ticker at the bottom of our national screens and into oblivion, I just want to weigh in on this one point:

There is an important distinction to be made between the parts of the mind that formulate strategy, and the parts that distinguish between moral and amoral actions. What most puzzles me about those who condemn Andrea Yates as the epitome of all evil is that they are equating strategic thinking with the ability to make moral judgment -- that if the former was not impaired, surely the latter must not have been impaired either, and therefore she is a heinous criminal rather than a madwoman.

This, I do not accept.

We can all agree that Yates was an able strategist -- that she had enough presence of mind to commit the murders at her convenience -- that the children were executed with precision planning. and determination.

But just because she had the presence of mind to design and execute a strategy, it does not necessarily follow that Yates was mentally capable enough to take a step back, appreciate the immorality of her actions, and simply elect not to do the deed.

Without citing chapter and verse from the testimony, I think it was pretty clear that, in Andrea Yates' tortured mind, she did not imagine for a moment that there was a rational alternative available to her.

I don't mean to suggest that she should have been given probation, a hug and a coupon for a free tubal ligation -- but what possible point is there in incarcerating her in a criminal prison? To teach her a lesson, so that she'll think twice next time? As a deterrent to other mentally ill mothers who have fleeting visions of drowning their own babies? This was not justice served; this was an angry jury looking for someone to punish for a horror that could not have been foreseen or prevented. They might as well have convicted an F-5 tornado.

The only saving grace to come out of this sad episode is that Yates dodged the death penalty. At least the jury recognized that there was more than enough tragedy to go around, and we won't have to keep revisiting this case as it oozes through the appeals process for the next dozen-odd years. And perhaps Andrea Yates will find some measure of peace ... in solitary.


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