On Friday evening’s Prime News on HLN, I joined host Vinnie Politan along with the attorney who represented infamous child killer Andrea Yates to discuss two outrageous new cases of young mothers who apparently killed their babies and have nevertheless been granted bail pending their murder trials. Due to the overwhelming evidence against both women, concern about potential flight and/or suicide, and obvious concern about what else a woman capable of killing a baby might be capable of, I wouldn’t have granted bail in either of these cases.
We discussed why women nevertheless seem to get breaks in cases like these that men wouldn’t get. Two reasons: 1) people, including judges and jurors, presume erroneously that the maternal (more than the paternal) instinct/bond is so strong that a mother (more so than a father) who killed her own child must have been out of her mind at the time, and 2) people see these cases as double tragedies in which one young life has already been lost and another young life is about to be effectively lost (to life in prison or the death penalty), so some people are open to hearing some excuse that they can use to justify trying to salvage the surviving person’s life.
Here’s the Lawpsyc truth though: 1) While post-partum depression and psychosis exist, it’s unbelievably rare for anyone for any reason to be so out of her mind that she doesn’t know she’s committing murder and that it’s a crime to do so (and efforts to cover it up afterward, as happened in both of these current cases, prove it — it’s called “consciousness of guilt”), and 2) There are women (I hate to call them “mothers”) who cold-bloodedly murder their children so that they can live “la bella vita” (hmmmm, where have we seen that before?), scary as that is (and it’s particularly scary because it shakes our fundamental belief in mothers as self-sacrificing nurturers, protectors, caregivers, etc.).
The father of one of the current defendants was quoted as saying that she was a model child. Yeah, ok, but that has to be largely discounted coming from him because he’s in a George Anthony-esque position — he’s already lost the chance to spend the next many years with his grandchildren (his daughter killed newborn twins), and now he’s facing losing the chance to spend the next many years with his daughter, too, so he’s probably motivated to see and say things in ways that aren’t accurate.
Speaking of the Anthony case in the context of these two new cases, I’m concerned that what some particularly selfish young women just saw happen in that case (Casey Anthony walking free, living “la bella vita” with no maternal responsibilities) may actually increase the chances that such malignantly narcissistic young women might consider infanticide as an option when they no longer want to shoulder the burdens of motherhood (even though, as was the case with both of the current defendants and as my friend Diane Dimond aptly spotlighted in a recent column, they could easily give the children up for adoption with no criminal or civil legal liability). I hope not, but it’s a scary thought.
In other Lawpsyc news, remember the Utah mother of two who went missing while her husband supposedly was on an overnight camping trip in sub-freezing temperatures with their two toddlers on a work night? And remember how the husband’s father recently said that the woman probably ran off with another man because she supposedly had made sexual advances toward him, her father-in-law? Well, well, guess what, the father in law has since been arrested for…child pornography. I said that his story about his missing daughter-in-law was bogus back a few weeks ago when he told it, and I’d say this pretty much seals it.
And remember that Florida man who was on trial for the murder of his wife and said that she had shot herself in the face, even though he initially told a 911 operator that he had shot her, and even though the gun had been wiped clean of prints and DNA and placed in a nightstand by the time the cops arrived? Well, he’s been convicted. As I said from the very beginning, before we even heard all of the inconsistencies in the evidence, shooting oneself in the face would be an extremely rare means of committing suicide and would be almost unheard-of for a female. Sounds like this Orlando jury got it right, and that’s certainly not always a given!
Speaking of juries, a jury has been selected in the California manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, personal physician to the late singer Michael Jackson, who allegedly died while Murray was administering a surgical sedative to Jackson at Jackson’s home to help the singer sleep. As you probably know, “Hollywood health care” is a term that I coined in the national medial to describe cases like Anna Nicole Smith’s and Jackson’s, in which I believe doctors malpractice in order to cater to celebrities’ self-destructive wishes, with lethal results. It remains a big topic with me, so stay tuned for periodic updates on the testimony.
And remember that case in Fullerton, CA in which a chronically psychotic man was beaten severely during an arrest, died thereafter, and people were screaming for all six of the cops involved to be arrested and charged with murder? I pointed out that the unfortunate deceased apparently was a guy with a history of violence who probably shouldn’t have been loose on the streets to get into it with the cops in the first place and that we needed to wait for an investigation to be completed before rushing to judgment against the six cops. Well, the evidence is in, and two of the six officers involved have been charged with crimes for having used excessive force in the course of the arrest. One is charged with second-degree murder, the other is charged with involuntary manslaughter. While police brutality should always be punished as the intolerable crime that it is, most cops are good people trying to do the right thing, and without making any excuses for the relatively few bad ones, we could help the good ones by not making them have to deal repeatedly with out-of-control violently-psychotic people. This idea that such patients will be safe on the streets because they’ll show up at outpatient mental health centers on a regular basis to get their antipsychotic meds assumes rational, reliable behavior on those patients’ parts that simply isn’t reasonable to expect.
Finally, study this: A new study confirms what I’ve been saying, as a psychologist and University faculty member, for years — college-aged Americans simply aren’t thinking about decisions in moral terms. This new study found that not only are young Americans failing to analyze decisions in terms of right and wrong, but worse, they aren’t even recognizing moral dilemmas as such. Instead, they increasingly appear to base major life decisions on how they feel, and particularly on what makes them feel happiest at any given moment, regardless of the impacts of their decisions on others. I’ve started calling them Generation “I” (not as in “information” or “Internet,” as in “I” come first).
It’s no surprise really. They haven’t been getting much moral instruction from a lot of single parents who’ve busy trying to make ends meet and/or getting on with their own post-divorce love lives (and not setting great moral examples in the process); they haven’t been getting much moral instruction in churches as regular church attendance among many Americans has steadily declined; and they haven’t been getting much moral instruction in public schools, where many teachers don’t want to even mention morality for fear of an ACLU lawsuit alleging some kind of “religious” indoctrination.
Meanwhile, young Americans have been immersed in our popular culture, which certainly hasn’t helped by constantly reinforcing the idea that the pursuit of individual happiness, mostly through purchases of products and services whether one can afford them or not, is the be-all, end-all of life. (Of course that’s erroneous thinking, as demonstrated by the many young entertainers who’ve seemed to “have it all” and have nevertheless attempted or committed suicide. True happiness is actually a byproduct of figuring out what one can uniquely contribute to something larger than oneself and then pursuing that.)
Then, when these young Americans get to college, many of them, rebelliously and uncritically, idolize pseudo-intellectuals who profess to eschew religion and then, with religious fervor, spoon-feed their students moral relativsim (the idea there are no enduring “rights” or “wrongs”), secular humanism/hedonism (the idea that the “right” thing really is what feels best in any given moment), and perhaps worst of all, moral “contrarianism” (the idea that “right” is “wrong” and “wrong” is “right,” e.g. “American soldiers are the bad guys and terrorists are the good guys, the freedom fighters”).
These latest sobering confirmations of what I’ve been saying for years bode poorly for young Americans’ future relationships, marriages, and families. In addition, a 2010 Washington Post article entitled “Wall Street Know-It-Alls Can’t Tell Right from Wrong” again echoed a point I’d made many times prior: When moral intelligence decays among those who direct our economy, it bodes poorly, not just for individual careers, but more importantly, for our societal competitiveness with other societies in which individuals are in fact focused on pursuits larger than themselves. Unless we swing the proverbial pendulum back in favor of moral reasoning in decision-making in this country, folks, I’m increasingly concerned that we’re in trouble on many levels.