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An odd dichotomy, updated

All the time I was writing my piece about the Andrea Yates case and the bigger picture it presented, something nagged at the back of my mind. I seemed to remember a somewhat analogous case, but I couldn't put together enough details to satisfy even Google. Luckily, earlier today I recalled the case -- and naturally, it was from right here in New Hampshire.

Manuel Gehring was a divorced father of two -- Sarah, age 14, and Philip, age 11. On July 4, 2003, he took them from their mother at a fireworks show, and they were never seen again.

Gehring apparently took them on a trip halfway across the country. Somewhere along the highways in the midwest, he killed and buried them. There was enough physical evidence (bloodstains in his van, a receipt for a shovel and other burial materials, and the like) to support He was caught and brought back to New Hampshire, where he confessed to the crime, but couldn't help investigators find the bodies. He eventually killed himself in jail last February, but the bodies of the children have yet to be found.

It's not a perfect parallel to the Yates case, but there are similarities. I think it's closer to the Susan Smith or Diane Downs cases, actually, but the principle holds. The opinion that Gehring was a monster is pretty much universal, but the women all had their supporters and defenders.

I'm starting to wonder if it's because many people see children as an extension of their mother, while the role of fathers has been more and more diminished over the last couple of decades. Could that be a part of it?



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» cut on the bias linked with Andrea Yates, mother of the year

Comments (27)

And the similarities are? B... (Below threshold)

And the similarities are? Both murdered their children? Susan Smith and Diana Downs both killed their children because they thought they were impediments to true love. I don't know who their supporters are, but hey, even the nightstalker has groupies. Gehring seems to have killed his children because he was pissed off about a custody arrangement and child support. Unfortunately, it occurs alot.

Nah, the world just hates m... (Below threshold)

Nah, the world just hates men.

When they killl and when they don't.

It's all our fault when shit goes wrong (by our own or other's fault), but we can't ever tell anyone what to do (if Yates beat his wife up to stop her, he'd have been vilified in a second).

All the pain of paternalism with none of the benefits. It's just the continued emasculanization of American society.

Boo hoo for poor you!!!!!!!... (Below threshold)

Boo hoo for poor you!!!!!!!!!

I think that this case migh... (Below threshold)

I think that this case might be a bad one to make your point.

This one was pre-meditated.

You may be on to something.... (Below threshold)

You may be on to something.

Different case but same idea: Recently, I finally watched the flick "Monster" with Charlize Theron. I couldn't help but notice how sympathetic the film makers were to this serial killer. Compare that to La-La Land's treatment of male serial killers.

I would never see Monster o... (Below threshold)

I would never see Monster or any movie about a serial killer just for those reasons. There is an old movie staring Tony Curtis with a sympathetic portrayal of the Boston Strangler (yes, you read it correctly).

The case that tracks most c... (Below threshold)

The case that tracks most closely, I think, is the instance of Adair Garcia, who attempted to kill himself and his five children in Los Angeles - he succeeded in killing most of them, but he survived. I wrote a lot about Yates and the unfair "pass" some tried to give her based on motherhood, back during her trial - it's all linked in the post trackbacked above. Another source is an article in The Weekly Standard by David Skinner - it's linked in my post, but here's a direct link: Andrea Yates--Not a Women's Issue.

I read an interesting artic... (Below threshold)

I read an interesting article a couple of years ago on the differing reason why men and women killed their children.

The conclusion they came to was that women tended to harm their children as an outgrowth of what they thought about themselves - the child was an obsticle to happiness, or constant reminder that they were a failure.

Men tended to harm the kids as revenge - to get back at the mom.

I'll see if I can dig it up somewhere...

"....the last couple of dec... (Below threshold)

"....the last couple of decades. Could that be a part of it? "



Here's the article I was th... (Below threshold)

Here's the article I was thinking about.


Julie: (Picking up from pr... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:

Julie: (Picking up from previous Yates thread)

I think our disagreement revolves around what is the purpose of criminal law.

I understand your side. Basically it's an argument that says legal culpability and "punishment" should depend upon whether or not the individual had "freedom" to do other than what they did. If we can't say they could have done otherwise, how can we hold them accountable? Are epileptics responsible for their thrashing, and thus guilty of assault, if they hit someone during a fit?

Logical consistency and moral intuition says this is right. The problem is though, if science has revealed to modern man that no one "could have done otherwise" - that free will is an illusion - how do we deal with it.

As I wrote, our system (if democratic) must punish those who seem, to us, as if they are "evil." Ms. Yates actions were evil. How do I know? Cause they feel that way. Sure evolutionary pschy. can explain why that reaction exists in me, but what of it?

So, is the criminal law supposed to reflect the sensibilities of those far removed from the crime who prize the law's "logical consistency" - punish those who had "control" (even when the lack of free will reveals this notion as logically inconsistent). Or, should it reflect the sensiblities of the family of the victim, who demand that "evil" be punished.

Juries sure seem to favor the latter. I know which foundation for criminal law I'd prefer when someone like Yates decides that it's my kids who must die to save the world.

Not saying that each side doesn't deal with moral intuition or one side is moral or not. Sorry if my language implied such.

No, Ray, you do not underst... (Below threshold)

No, Ray, you do not understand at all what I have been saying. Under Texas law one cannot argue that a defendant 's mental illness prevented them from controlling their actions. Therefore, it is irrelevant to the argument I'm making.

Every crime requires the prosecution prove BYRD a required mental state. I am arguing that there was insufficient evidence of the requisite mental state necessary to convict and insufficient evidence that Yates knew right from wrong. Once again, everyone who examined her said she was nuts. The prosecution could only find one person who said otherwise. And, the basis for that expert's opinion is rather specious, to say the least.

You go on and on about philosophy and the law. Nothing bores me more than philosophy – especially other peoples. You ask should the sensibilities of those far removed from the crime control. While there is something to be said about looking at things dispassionately, but let's do it your way:

The people who were not far removed from the crime, i.e., the psychs who examined Yates shortly before and after the crime, all said she was nuts except for Dietz.

You want to go with the “sensibilities” [still using morally charged language, I see] of the family of the victim - okay. Her family says she is nuts.

Applying your own standards – she's nuts. Case closed.

And, how do you know what juries favor? Based on this one case? A few other cases you read or heard about it? Sorry, that does not extrapolate to a valid opinion of what juries will or will not do. You do realize that insanity defenses are extremely rare, don't you? Yet, you and others act like civilization is coming to an end if this poor woman isn't executed.

What pisses me off most is the lack of knowledge and understanding of mental illness. With a close second being the intent of some people in making this a male/female thing. That is more indicative of their own problems, issues and politics and has nothing to do with actual facts.

Lyanna: While I fo... (Below threshold)


While I found the points you made accurate and insightful, the article you linked to sucked. (I'll give it another read.) But, as you appear to recognize, though the motives are different, they are still criminal and have nothing to do with insanity.

I'm not sure how anyone can compare Yates and Adair since so few facts are known about Adair. But if they can, I can: Both killed their kids. And, that's where the similarity stops.

Yates had a long documented history of severe mental illness. Adair made a statement that he was depressed and despondent over marital problems. Maybe there is more, but it has not been made public (I assume his defense wants it that way). Again, I don't see how anyone can say they are similar.

People say there is disparate treatment even though both were charged with capital offenses. And that the fact Adair attracts less public interest is indicative of some evil plot. Okay. Though, maybe, it's because: The public has no control over what the media prints and airs. Or that people are sick of hearing about people killing their kids. Or maybe, it's because he doesn't have whacko relatives going in front of the camera like Yates did attracting attention. Or, maybe it's because, unlike Texas, it will be years before the case goes to trial and people loose interest immediately.

Anyway, I find their sexual discrimination argument disingenious.

Julie: Not sure w... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:


Not sure why you're hung up on the "premeditation" aspect of Yates case. Generally, this just means she had time to reflect on what she was doing. This wasn't an issue. She waited till her husband was at work so he wouldn't stop her and prepared for it. She admitted she decided on drowning instead of stabbing becasue the latter was "too bloody." Again, premeditation wasn't a real issue.

Insanity was. Texas says insane if "couldn't distinguish wrong from right" Almost all other states say insane if action was the "product of insanity or delusion." Yates was not insane in Texas. (Had she killed them in OK though....) She knew other's would try to stop her, that it was illegal, that it was wrong to them. (Apparantly, TX doesn't care if it was right to the killer - she thought it was for their own good apparantly - but knew others wouldn't understand.)

You seem to think that Dietz somehow fooled the jury. I don't think so. Again, seems she was insane as under TX law. Not insane anywhere else. Yes, Dietz' testimony may have necessitated a new trial all things considered, but, should she go to trial again, I doubt we get a different verdict.

Seems your problem is with TX insanity law. (Some say that's the Appellate Crt. real problem too, but didn't want to sy it was unconstitutional, so used Dietz as a pretext)

But again, I claim that juries don't look favorably on insanity claims - I think any defense atty says to use it as a last defense. You're right it's anecdotal, but her's another: the Wilhelm case - another, later, parent-child drowning case, where the jury said guilty, not insane (in a state where the law was the much broader "product of" standard.) http://www.mhanys.org/ff/ff030711.htm

You might be right. Society may not do enough to protect the insane once they kill another. But again, if Yates killed my child for his own good, my sympathies are not with the insane person. If Yates was my daughter, or someone in my family was insane, I'm sure they would be. The question is: whose sympathies should the criminal law value higher?

Pardon: Meant to say she W... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:

Pardon: Meant to say she WOULD be insane everywhere else in third paragraph.

Man, I can't even get my co... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:

Man, I can't even get my correction straight. What I'm trying to say there is that it seems a fair application of the facts would result in "Not insane" in TX, but insane everywhere else that uses the "product of delusion" standard

Not sure why you're hung... (Below threshold)

Not sure why you're hung up on the "premeditation" aspect of Yates case.

I'm not hung up on anything, Ray.

[snip Ray's simplistic lay definition of complex legal issues.]

Again, premeditation wasn't a real issue.

It's always an issue.

[Not only is Ray an expert in criminal law and insanity defenses in Texas, his knowledge extends to OK, too. Boy, L. Hand has nothing on you! snip! snip! snip!]

You seem to think that Dietz somehow fooled the jury.

No, I think the weight of the expert testimony was that she was insane at the time and that Dietz's opinion is flawed.

I don't think so. Again, seems she was insane as under TX law. Not insane anywhere else. Yes, Dietz' testimony may have necessitated a new trial all things considered, but, should she go to trial again, I doubt we get a different verdict.

On, yeah? And I doubt it even gets retried.

Seems your problem is with TX insanity law. (Some say that's the Appellate Crt. real problem too, but didn't want to sy it was unconstitutional, so used Dietz as a pretext)

No, your problem is with Texas law. I have no problem with it. Even more astounding than your claim to know what my problem is, is the fact that you criticize the court's opinion without even reading it. There was no pretext, it was a serious error. And because reversal was mandatory, the coa was not required to delve into other errors.

But again, I claim that juries don't look favorably on insanity claims - I think any defense atty says to use it as a last defense.

Of course, you would use it as a last defense because the prosecution still has to prove their case. But you would be obligated to use it when your client is fucking nuts. If you don't, you are looking at a serious claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

You're right it's anecdotal, but her's another: [snip]

Gee, Ray, pulling some memo off the internet does not a legal treatise make. You see your problem here?

You might be right. Society may not do enough to protect the insane once they kill another.

I said that? Or you think I said that?

But again, if Yates killed my child for his own good, my sympathies are not with the insane person. If Yates was my daughter, or someone in my family was insane, I'm sure they would be. The question is: whose sympathies should the criminal law value higher?

It's not all about you, Ray. Just because you don't like the crime or the person who committed the crime does not give you the right to deny the person due process and a fair trial.

Okay, Ray, I no longer have any interest in talking to a wall that talks back. But, let me know when you are ready to lecture on Neurosurgery. I always wanted to learn how to put in a shunt.

Julie:I wouldn't p... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:


I wouldn't presume to lecture you on neurosurgery, but you seem to be arguing that you have some special knowledge of the law here that allow your opinions to trump others. I don't doubt you know a lot. My guess is you're a defense attorney. Good for you. If so, you'll understand the law a little better and see I've laid it out to you correctly here.

And FWIW, if you think you need your pedigree to argue here, I'm an attorney too and practiced a number of years in the major felonies division of one of the nation's largest cities. (Mostly sex crimes. Never did an insanity case though, and never in Texas - don't mean I can't understand the law though)

Enjoyed the back and forth with you.

No, you have not " laid it ... (Below threshold)

No, you have not " laid it out " correctly. And I find it suspect for someone to claim to be an atty who argues against an opinion that he doesn't even bother to read, cites memos as authority, and all the other nonsense you have written.

Julie:Nice to have... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:


Nice to have you back. You really aren't responding substantively, you're just tossing around words to say you really, really don't like what I'm saying. But the Yates case is emotional and people come down on both sides.

As for the Appellate ruling, check it out right here: http://www.1stcoa.courts.state.tx.us/opinions/htmlopinion.asp?OpinionId=81308
Very short.

If I'm not clear to you on this point, I think they put forward very good reasons for remanding it for retrial. Dietz's testimony was troubling. But again, the trial court listened to the same motion and denied it. It wasn't necessarily a slam dunk remand and part of the reason for the ruling could be the App. court's unease with how the the insanity law handles obviously delusional defendants like Yates.

julie - guess I should have... (Below threshold)

julie - guess I should have more fully clarified what I was referencing in that article; much of it was tripe. The part that interested me was the motive discussion. Perhaps we view parent who kill their children the same way they view themselves.

I would think that we would be more harsh, not less, with a woman who kills her children. She is the one who carried them, and probably provided more nurture when they were most vulnerable.

However, if we (and she) perceive that the children are an outgrowth of the woman's person, we may pity her for the harm she does to "herself". Perhaps we see the woman as having committed a form of suicide, not really murder. In that same line of thinking, we would have less pity for the man because he would be seen as acting on someone outside of himself, definitely a homicide.

Does the fact that they kill for different reasons make one more acceptable than the other? Certainly not. The reality is that in both cases, we are dealing with the willful taking of another's life.

Ray: You state nothing sub... (Below threshold)

Ray: You state nothing substantive to respond to, Ray. And why are you giving a link to the case now? I read it when the decision was first published 5 days ago. Glad you finally got around to reading it, assuming you did. And comparing the trial court's denial of the motion for a new trial to the appellate opinion is comparing apples to oranges. And what's all this nonsense about it is not a slam dunk remand? Is that some sort of new legal standard? The case was remanded because the woman did not receive a fair trial. The error “affected the substantial rights of appellant.” The court never even discussed the other issues because this one was egregious enough to demand reversal.

Lyanna: I fail to see how in reality woman are treated any different than men. You can't get much harsher than life in prison without parole or a death sentence. And in the type of cases you referred to, those are the sentences they receive.

Susan Smith and Diana Downs... (Below threshold)

Susan Smith and Diana Downs were evil predators and did what they did premeditively knowing full well what they were going to do after the fact. It was all planned out and both did what they did because of a man - they wanted the love of a man back. I don't know what kind of insantity that is, I don't call in being insane. The guy from NH who NH and buried them somewhere along the Ohio highway did that out of spite and to hurt his ex-wife. She obviously had good reason for divorcing him. What about the father who burnt his son and watched? What about the other father from Texas who kidnapped his two children and drove to Maine only to kill them there? All so the mother of these children could not have them. These people are in no way can be compared to Andrea Yates who suffers from a real, documented mental illness.

There's more if you want to hear it but write me personally; I've had enough pain in my life to let the world (AGAIN) know what happened to me.


Julie:My substanti... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:


My substantive remark refers to your short and unsupported claim that 'I hadn't laid out correctly' Texas' insanity law. If you still question my assessment, please first read the Mental Health Ass. of Texas' review of the Yates case. http://www.mhatexas.org/InsanityDefense

The first paragraph is particularly instructive, esp: "The defense must prove that not only that an individual has a serious mental illness, but also that the individual did not know that his or her conduct was wrong in the eyes of the law."

W/r/t your criticism of my slam dunk remark, of course that wasn't the standard they used. In short your misunderstand my remark. All I'm saying is that the App. Ct's decision wasn't as clear cut as you seem to think it was. And I think your mistake on this point arises from your misunderstanding as to the reviewing standard.

It wasn't "harmelss error" review as you had earlier written. Clearly the court is employing the tougher to meet "clear error" standard. Harmless error says remand unless "beyond a reasonable doubt" removing the error wouldn't have changed the verdict. 'Clear error' says DON'T remand unless "reas. likelihood" exists that the error could have affected the judgment of the jury - not whether they considered it, but whether, absent the erroneous testimony, their judgment (ie verdict) would have been different. If it would have been, then a 'substantial right' of Yates would have been violated.

So, the question becomes: Absent Dietz' mistaken testimony and pros. emphasis of it, is it "reasonably likely" that they would have believed and returned a verdict showing Yates did not know drowning her 5 children was illegal in Texas when she did so.

So what was Dietz' mistaken testimony? That a L&O episode existed wherein a mother drowns her children, claims insanity and is found not gulty. [The pros. made a mistake in stipulating to these facts on appeal as this was not Dietz's actual error. Such an episode existed, it was just shown 5 months before the drowning (and a few days after after) but the mother was found guilty in it - http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/08/arts/television/08law.html?adxnnl=1&oref=login&adxnnlx=1105387677-LUIrAHe0EAn4AOG4Z/kf+g

What I was saying is that it was no 'slam dunk' that absent Dietz' testimony of that L&O episode and pros. emphasis of such creates REAS. LIKELIHOOD that the jury would have changed their mind and said that Yates didn't in fact know that Texas law says drowning your 5 children is illegal. It seems clear to me that all the facts of the event and Yates own statements make it clear she knew it was illegal. Clearly she was delusional, but she was not legally insane in that she knew her actions were wrong in this regard. (maybe you believe otherwise - we just disagree on what the facts show)

That's 'clear error' applied to the facts here. Maybe 'harmless error' would have resulted in a remand more obviously but you're simply mistaken in believing that the App. Ct. applied the 'harmless error' test.

Your 'apples to oranges' comment is simply incorrect also. The trial court looked at Dietz mistaken testimony and its possible effect on the verdict and said a new trial wasn't warranted. The Appellate court said the trial court was mistaken, so mistaken in fact is was an 'abuse of discretion' applying the 'clear error' standard.

I think the trial court has the better understanding of it all. The App. Court, it seems to me, leans over backward to find their 'clear error." Reas. people can still disagree on this, but, if you hold my view, the App. ct. decision becomes a bit more understandable if the 3 judges had an underlying antipathy to Tex's Insanity law and how obviously delusional defendant's like Yates are not insane under it.

Julie: A side not... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:


A side note. You seem to make much of the fact I hadn't read the App. decision when iI first posted about it. I wasn't saying they were wrong then - of course not, I hadn't read it. I was simply saying that if what the other commenters were saying was true, it didn't make sense to me. That's why I asked if I was misunderstanding something. You told me what it was, and I thanked you for pointing that out. I don't understand why this should now give rise to your accusation that as a lawyer I should know better than to make such criticism. Again, obviously, tht wasn't what I was doing there.

I know this is an emotional issue, but if you have qualms with what I've written substantively, tell me. I can always learn from my mistakes and maybe I've made a few above. Let me know what they are. Or ignore it entirely. Whatever. Please don't just criticize it as 'bullshit" or claim your special understanding of the law reveals to you it's errors, but that you can't be bothered to point them out.

Ray: Bullshit.... (Below threshold)

Ray: Bullshit.

Julie:Must have to... (Below threshold)
Ray Midge:


Must have touched a nerve with you. Sorry. Just trying to make sense of a strange case.






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