A reader sent me a link to this blog post about two cases where mothers killed their children, both in Texas, and both convicted by juries. But one mother said that she did it because God told her to and therefore it wasn’t wrong; the other said she did it because Satan told her to, but she knew that God would be angry at her for it. The same psychiatrist testified in both trials, but said that the first mother was insane, while the second one was sane:
The similarities between the cases were striking. Laney and Yates, now both 41, were deeply religious, stay-at-home moms when they killed their children. After interviewing them, Dietz found each woman to be mentally ill, psychotic and delusional, according to transcripts from both trials.
However, in Laney’s case, Dietz testified she was insane because she had thought attacking her kids was the right thing to do. The jury agreed with Dietz’s analysis and acquitted her by reason of insanity. She now is in a mental hospital.
A key difference in the Yates and Laney cases: Laney told Dietz she attacked her sons at God’s direction. Dietz testified he took that as a sign she didn’t know right from wrong. “I think it’s understood that the ultimate test that God could ask of someone is to kill your own child,” Dietz testified at the Laney trial. “The Bible has information on that very point.”
This is what I don’t get. If Dietz really thinks that God tells people to kill their children as a test, like the bible says of Abraham, then shouldn’t he be defending Dietz as being sane because it could be true? In fact, shouldn’t he be defending her as doing God’s will? His reasoning for this is just bizarre:
Michael Perlin, a professor at New York Law School who specializes in mental disability law, said societal values about good and evil should not be factors in determining whether a defendant is sane.
“It shouldn’t make any difference where the voices come from, whether God or Satan or a pop star or Napoleon,” Perlin said. “If you’re responding to voices, that suggests a lack of a grasp on reality. They’re responding to an extra-worldly command in a delusional state.”
Dietz disagrees. “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.
I think Dietz may be insane. Or just hopelessly irrational.