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The Andrea Yates Trial: It Didn't Have To Happen That Way


Rick Giombetti

With the appeal of Andrea Yates' conviction for drowning three of her five children now making headlines it is important to dispell some of the myths being put forward in the media reporting of the appeal.

First and foremost, Andrea Yates is not appealing her conviction. Many of the headlines being generated by this story give readers this impression, like the way it was picked up by Newsday: "Woman Who Drowned Kids Appeals Conviction." The appeal is the work of her family, who will simply never accept her guilt for her terrible crimes, and her attorney. Andrea Yates did not want to do an insanity defense plea in her case from the start and wanted to be held responsible for crimes. This is all very well documented in Suzanne O'Malley's book about the case "Are You There Alone?" From the moment she made her 911 call on June 19, 2001, and during her trial testimony, Andrea Yates expressed a deep sense of guilt for drowning her five children in a bath tub. She constantly spoke of burning in hell and Satan, all metaphorical language for the punishment she felt she deserved. All the psychoquacks in her case and the media agree that these utterings were symptoms of her "mental illness."

It's also worth noting that Andrea Yates convicted herself with her own words. It wasn't the false testimony offered up by the prosecution's hired psychoquack Park Dietz, as Yates' attorney Troy McKinney claims. Dietz testified that Yates was inspired to commit her crimes after viewing a "Law & Order" episode Dietz had consulted on. An espisode that in fact did not exist it was discovered after the trial. McKinney claims that this testimony "had turned the tide of the trial against his client." Wrong. Andrea Yates' own words are ultimately what turned the tide against her. She told Dietz in her interviews with him that she called police after she killed her children because that's who you call when you do something wrong. Nothing more clearly demonstrates that Andrea Yates was an unwilling participant in a judical farce and I commend her for it. In "Are You There Alone?" O'Malley correctly points out that despite months of coaching Andrea simply refused to spout the necessary lines in her testimony for getting an aquittal by reason of insanity. I just wish Andrea's family and everybody else involved in the case would accept the deep sense of guilt she feels for what she did and accept her willingness to be held responsible for her crimes. Yet they go on in their vain attempt at excusing Andrea for her crimes.

The decision of the prosecution to counter the psychiatric quackery of the defense in the Andrea Yates case with more psychiatric quackery was a major blunder on their part. How does a prosecution counter a defendant who admits to the crime, but whose defense team is offering up an insanity defense? The answer is simple: Call Thomas Szasz.

In the new book "Szasz Under Fire," a critical volume edited by Jeffrey A. Schaler and featuring prominent critics of Szasz, Szasz replies to his critics. In this volume Szasz makes his first public comments on his participation as a prosecution expert witness in the 1980 insanity defense trial of Darlin June Cromer. In 1980, a then 34-year-old Cromer abducted and killed a 5-year-old black boy named Reginald Williams in Oakland, California. Cromer was on probation for assaulting a Chinese woman at the time she committed her murder of Williams. Cromer had been a life long psych patient and was an avowed white surpemacist. She admitted to and boasted about her crime. There was no doubt she did it. Prosecutor Albert Melonling charged Cromer with first degree murder with aggravating circumstance, the aggravating circumstance being the obvious racial hatred expressed by Cromer. Cromer's defense attorney Assistant Public Defender Dean Beaupre argued that his client was not guilty by reason of insanity and employed four prominent California "forensic" psychiatrists to back up his contention. He argued that "his client was consumed by schizophrenic paranoia - not hatred for blacks."

The typical prosecutor counters the claim that a defendant was insane at the time a crime was committed by hiring their own psychiatrists and psychologists. The typcial line in such a prosecution is that while the defendant is clearly "mentally ill" he/she is nevertheless responsible for the crime. Melonling was not such a prosecutor. He was a prosecutor who had a deep dislike of the insanity defense and the claims of "forensic" court psychiatrists. He sought out the assistance of Szasz in the Cromer case. Szasz agreed to tesify for the prosecution on one condition, that one condition being that he not participate in the ritual charade of the "psychological evaluation" to determine the mental state of Cromer when she committed her crime on February 5, 1980. Melonling agreed to this condition and hired Szasz. Melonling's prosecution of Cromer was a runaway success and an embarrassment and humilation for the defense.

The reason why Szasz employed this tactic was simple honesty. Neither he, the defense psychiatrists or anybody else could possibly know Cromer's mental state won the day she committed her crime. We can only gain an understanding of somebody's mental state in the present. Szasz defended his refusal to examine Cromer in his testimony by stating "I could only determine by examining her now what her mental condition is now," and "That is the nature of the psychiatric examination. I don't know what her mental condition was six months ago. I wouldn't know what it would be six months from now."

Instead of participating in the ritual of "examining" Cromer to determine her mental state on February 5, 1980, Szasz briefly examined some of Cromer's past medical records and the facts pertaining to her crime, and determined that "she was suffering from the consequences of having lived a life very badly, very stupidly. Very evilly; that from the time of her teens, for reasons which I don't know, she had, whatever she had done, she has done very badly. She was a bad student. There is no evidence that she was a particularly good daughter, sister. She was a bad wife. She was a bad mother. She was a bad employee insofar as she was employable. Then she started to engage (in taking) illegal drugs, then she escalated to illegal assault, and finally she committed this murder...Life is a task. You either cope with it or it gets you...If you do not know how to build, you can always destroy. These are the people that destroy us in society, our society, and other people."

Harsh, but not undeserved, words for somebody who had killed a defenseless five-year-old boy after a leading a less than exemplary life. Not surprisingly, Szasz's testimony played well with a jury in the predominatly black community of Oakland and didn't play well with the psychiatric community. Cromer was convicted and her conviction was upheld on appeal in 1989. Szasz has been excoriated by the forensic psychiatric community ever since the trial for not "examining" Cromer and committing defacto medical malpractice. Psychiatrists are sore losers and their reaction to the successful testimony of Szasz in the Cromer case is a good example of this. The insanity defense has not fared well in public opinion since the aquittal of President Ronald Reagan's attempted assassin John Hinckley. The insanity defense would become a thing of the past if prosecutors would employ the tactics of the prosecution in the Cromer case.

It doesn't take a medical education to see that Andrea Yates chose to respond to her existential crisis with her husband and family by acting in a very evil manner on June 19, 2001. Her own words after she committed her crimes tell us this. The prosecution in the Andrea Yates case got what they paid for in hiring celebrity psychiatric expert Park Dietz. They got a highly paid liar whose profession is based on the lie that so-called foresenic psychiatrists can know the mental state of a defendant like Andrea Yates months after the fact, and can know what it will be in the future. If they had hired Szasz as their expert to counter the testimony of the defense hired psychoquacks, they would have scored an easy prosecutorial slam dunk in the case. Instead, today they're still stuck in court three years later basically retrying what should have been an open and shut case. The prosecution team only have themselves to blame for their lack of vision in prosecuting this case. You can't counter psychiatric language and thinking with more of the same. Szasz's testimony in the Cromer case is a textbook example of how to counter an insanity defense.

Reprinted on www.szasz.com by permission of Rick Giombetti.

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