Today, a Texas jury decided that Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her five children in a psychotic fugue, should not get the death penalty. The prosecution decided to seek the death penality, even though the woman was, by any calculations, completely insane. The jury found her guilty, nonetheless. It wasn’t really their fault. The law is that a person can only be not guilty by reason of insanity if they are so wacked they don’t know right from wrong. Some commentators have said that this means that the defense has to show that the person would have done the crime even if the police were in the room. Ms. Yates’ lawyers argued that she knew what she was doing was illegal, but thought it was morally right. The jury didn’t buy that argument, which just shows how narrow the defense is, despite this widespread assumption that people successfully “plead insanity” all the time.

The deaths of these children is a tragedy, but the real obscenity here is the prosecutor, who dangled death above this afflicted woman’s head for no purpose known to Justice. The largest psych ward in the U.S. is in the L.A. County Jail. This is how we deal with our mentally ill people in 21st Century America. The Texas jury did the right thing when it refused to sentence Yates to death. I hope the Texas voters will do the right thing and terminate this prosecutor’s career at next election.