By: Jeannine Scott
Andrea Yates drowned her five children in the bathtub on June 20, 2001. We know that she committed this crime. We also know that she is severely mentally ill.
Yet, the state of Texas is seeking the death penalty for Andrea — a woman who suffered from postpartum psychotic depression, attempted to commit suicide at least twice, and believed that she should die for failing her children.
Andrea was hospitalized several times for depression. She experienced visions and heard voices commanding her to “get a knife!” She scratched open wounds into her scalp. And at times, she has been described as nearly catatonic by medical professionals and family.
Andrea’s husband Russell, who has stood by his wife from the very beginning, refers to the deaths of his children as the “unspeakable tragedy,” and he blames the inadequate treatment of his wife’s postpartum depression for her actions.
“She didn’t get the medical treatment she deserved,” said Russell. He’s right. Andrea needs treatment — not a death sentence.
Like Andrea, there are many others on death row who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation. Unfortunately, most others do not get the attention or the sympathy that Andrea’s case has understandably gotten.
In most criminal cases, defendants are rarely treated as human beings — especially if they’re Black or Latino and poor. Instead they’re treated as monsters.
Take the case of Mario Marquez, detailed in a New York Times editorial by columnist Bob Herbert last summer. Mario, who had an IQ of 65, was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a teenager. He was physically abused as a child, and his parents abandoned him when he was only 12 years old. Mario’s limited mental capacity meant that he couldn’t talk to his lawyer about the specifics of his case. He liked to talk to his lawyer about animals and his drawings.
Mario was executed by the state of Texas in 1995.
Mario should not have been executed, just as Andrea Yates should not be executed. It’s wrong to execute the mentally ill under any circumstances. Cases like Mario’s and Andrea’s expose the barbarity of the death penalty.