About two decades ago, Andrea Yates made headlines when she was accused and later convicted of drowning her five children in a bathtub in Texas. Her attorney at the time recently thought back to the high-profile case, following news that Massachusetts nurse Lindsday Clancy was charged with murdering her three children.
George Parnham, who represented Yates in 2001, calls the two cases “strikingly similar.”
“When I read about [Clancy’s] case, I immediately thought of Andrea’s case,” he said on Law&Crime’s Sidebar podcast. He recalled how Yates waited until her husband went to work to go through with her plan to kill her children, just as Clancy sent her own husband out before strangling her children — Cora, 5; Dawson, 3; and Callan, 8 months — with exercise cords.
“The similarity is such that they both knew that the husband would stop them from doing what they were doing with the lives of the children,” Parnham said. “The husbands realized that … how idiotic it is that they would take the lives of those that they gave life to.”
“And this is unlike any other type of homicide,” he continued. “This strikes at the very core of our own notions of who we are.”
Both husbands, Rusty Yates and Patrick Clancy, appeared blindsided, never imagining such a tragedy was possible in their families. In a statement, Patrick Clancy even asked for his wife to be met with forgiveness.
“The real Lindsay was generously loving and caring towards everyone — me, our kids, family, friends, and her patients,” Patrick Clancy wrote on a GoFundMe page. “The very fibers of her soul are loving. All I wish for her now is that she can somehow find peace.”
Clancy, who pleaded not guilty, is paralyzed after jumping out a window following the deaths of her children. Prosecutors say this was a premeditated attack, part of a murder-suicide plot. The defense has made statements about postpartum depression, although Clancy has never been diagnosed.
Parnham said being diagnosed with postpartum depression is “basically insignificant,” yet the issue is “crucial.”
“This is a situation where no one can basically understand why a mother would take the life of a child,” Parnham explained. “And I would suggest to the attorneys that the first thing … is to contact an expert, get up to speed. The lawyers need to be educated by experts to be able to ask the right questions of the expert and make certain that the expert is so geared to talk in simplistic terms, to explain these things to not only the lawyer, but the eventual jury, because the jurors will look upon that individual as the individual that can guide them through this horrific situation.”
“It’s vitally important to understand postpartum, to get a grip on it,” Parnham continued. “And ironically, mothers will understand the whole issue of postpartum because giving birth is not only a physical act, but it has an enormous mental impact on the mother. And as a consequence, and for instance Andrea’s case, in the case of this young woman, it’s something that we have to deal with.”
Parham said he was determined not to put Yates, who was in a psychotic state, on the stand. She believed that if her children grew up in a world of evil, their chances of going to heaven were rare. “They would all be sent to hell if they were allowed to exist,” he recalled.
Yates was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors sought the death penalty, but that conviction was overturned. In a new trial, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity — she was reported to have postpartum depression, psychosis, schizophrenia. Now Yates is spending her days in a Texas mental health hospital.
When it comes to the discussion of premeditation, Parnham said these crimes don’t just happen, they’re not “spur of the moment.”
“These are situations that develop over a period of time,” he said. He thinks back to Yates, who was reported to have difficulties in high school and went through bouts of time not speaking to anyone, “absolutely silent.”
“And Lord knows what was going on in her mind at that particular period of time,” he continued.
But he said what he finds interesting about Clancy’s case is that she jumped out the window.
“For lawyers to take a look at that particular situation, it is not too far-fetched to believe that that mother wanted to be with her children in death,” Parnham suggested. “And this is the reason why and plausible reason why she did what she did after the deaths of her children. [District attorneys] will try to find motives that they can rely upon to offset the mentally illness that will be presented by experts, defense experts, and convincing a jury to do the right thing.”
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