Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Filicide in the United States

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Filicide in the United States

Article excerpt

Byline: Phillip. Resnick

In the United States the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education determines the curriculum required for fellows in forensic psychiatry to become board certified as a subspecialist. Areas that must be covered during the one year fellowship include criminal issues, such as insanity; civil issues, such as tort law and Workers' Compensation; legal regulation of psychiatry, such as confidentiality and involuntary hospitalization; and correctional psychiatry issues, such as dual agency and prisoner's rights. Fellows are also expected to have knowledge about juvenile courts, the structure of the legal system, and child custody issues. In addition, fellows are required to analyze complex cases and write forensic reports which are well reasoned. Teaching methods include lectures, storytelling, use of video vignettes, and mock trials. Additional teaching methodologies include group supervision of fellows in their report writing and direct observation of giving testimony. During the year we see fellows evolve and shift their orientation from being an advocate for patients to perceiving their role as serving justice.

On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned each of her five children, aged 6 months to 7 years, in her bathtub. She was charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder with death penalty specifications. Her earlier life provides no clues that she would later commit an infamous crime. She graduated valedictorian of her high school class of 608 students. Upon completion of her Bachelor's degree in nursing, she became a highly regarded nurse at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. After her marriage, she was determined to be a "super mom." Every witness at her trial agreed that she was a wonderful mother.

After her 4 [sup]th son was born, Mrs. Yates felt overwhelmed and depressed. She knew through a "feeling" that Satan wanted her to kill her children. She took an overdose of medication to take her own life rather than risk harming her children. In spite of contrary advice from her treating psychiatrist, she and her husband chose to have a fifth child.

The last of Mrs. Yates's four psychiatric hospitalizations was 5 weeks before her homicides. Mrs. Yates did not reveal her psychotic symptoms to her husband or her doctor. She thought that television commercials were referring directly to her. She had a delusion that television cameras were placed throughout her home to monitor the quality of her mothering. Finally, she had the belief that the "one and only Satan" was literally within her.

Mrs. Yates believed that her children were not developing right, "intellectually," and "were not righteous." She believed that her children would "never be right" because she had "ruined them" due to her defective mothering. For example, she thought that her son Luke would become a "mute homosexual prostitute" and her son John would become a "serial murderer." She was convinced that all of her children would be punished and "burn in hell." She thought that after she drowned her children, she would be arrested and executed. She believed that Satan would be executed along with her. She drowned her children because she wanted to "save their souls." She faced a psychotic dilemma. She thought that she was doing what was right for her children by arranging for them to be in heaven while they were still "innocent."

Mrs. Yates's attorneys entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) in her first trial in 2002. The jury rejected the insanity defense and she was sentenced to life in prison. Her first trial verdict was overturned by an appellate court. In her second trial in 2006, the jury found her NGRI (Resnick, 2007).


Child murder by parents (filicide) is one of the most upsetting types of crime. It is even more distressing when a mother kills her child than when a father does, because we expect mothers to be selfless and to love and protect their children at all costs (Pagelow, 1984). …

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