By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
March 10, 2002
The trial of Andrea Yates, the killer mom who methodically drowned her five children and then called the police to confess what she had done, is underway. Predictably, her attorneys are using the all-too-common defense of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.
The defense will showcase weeks of expert testimony describing postpartum depression, psychosis and attempts to demonstrate that the suspect did not know right from wrong at the time of the killings. Clearly, any woman who would kill her children is disturbed, but that's beside the point. The purpose of a trial is to determine guilt or innocence, not to present a lengthy excuse matrix of mitigating circumstances in order to arouse sympathy for the psychopath. It makes no difference to the deceased whether or not the killer was insane or the act premeditated. Five fresh graves stand silent witness to the fact that murder was committed.
The finding, "Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity," is illogical. If the defendant were insane at the time of the crime, it would make more sense to be found "Guilty While Insane," or "Guilty by Reason of Insanity."
But to declare someone who is guilty to be innocent is wrong and would embolden others to commit similar crimes. I don't mind if circumstances such as insanity are considered in sentencing, but that should happen only after a truthful verdict on guilt or innocence has been pronounced. To do otherwise would cause an avalanche of excuses for criminal behavior that would bury justice beneath a mountain of psychoanalysis.
It is our human nature to make excuses. I can give a dozen reasons why I drove 72 miles an hour in a 65 zone all the way into work this morning, but none of them matter. My socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and state of mind had nothing to do with it. I sped, and I deserved a ticket.
America is chock full of victims who point to something in their past that has prevented them from achieving what they should have or caused them to do what they shouldn't. Criminals blame their behavior on everything from poverty to racism. Politicians lament that campaign expenses force them to engage in unethical fund-raising practices. Employees steal from their employers because they are underpaid.
At some point in this cycle, the victim complex has to stop. Undoubtedly, some people have more in their pasts to overcome than others, but ultimately we each have to take responsibility for what we choose to do with our lives.
And the justice system must hold criminals accountable for what they have done with theirs.