- Published: January 7, 2014
On June 20, 2001, Houstonian woman Andrea Yates murdered her five children by drowning them in the bathtub of her house. The case brought national attention because it caused great public scrutiny over the M’Naghten Rules (the legal test for insanity). While she was convicted of murder in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison, this conviction was overturned on an appeal. In 2006, the state of Texas declared Yates to be not guilty for reasons of insanity (NGRI). Therefore, she was sent to a medical facility rather than to jail.
This case is interesting because it seems to deal more with emotions of the human brain than actual scientific neurological “evidence.” According to an article in the online magazine Reason, “none of the celebrated objective brain-analyzing technologies—not functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), not positron emission tomography (PET), not computed axial tomography (CAT)—had any bearing on the Yates case as it was presented in court.” Instead, it was the jury members’ and public’s inability to comprehend or reason Yates’s decisions that caused them to believe that Yates must have been insane. The only way to explain her actions was say that the basis of her actions was not human, logical thinking, but was some force of Yates’ mind in which she could not control.
Although many expert witnesses and psychiatrists diagnosed Yates with depression and other neurological disorders subsequent to the murders, I find this case a little too based on human emotion than actual scientific law. It seems to say that any crime that is extraordinarily disturbing must be caused by motives that are not truly human. But I feel like this is a way for the public to pretend that such disturbing practices are not possible for beings with our level of intelligence. In reality, this is clearly not true. If no real scientific evidence can back up an individual as not guilty for reasons of insanity, then I feel that the legally moral decision is to ensure punishment.