Insanely Guilty

A mother sets out to save her children, by killing them. Texas usually jails such women, but that may be changing.

If Yates is granted a new trial, jurors will be faced with much the same testimony about her mental state, this time without Dietz. But they won't see what jurors did in the Diaz case: 12 hours of videotapes taken of the defendant in the weeks following her arrest, before antipsychotic medication stabilized her condition.

Though police made a videotape of the Yates crime scene -- including the five dead children -- they never recorded Yates. If they had, jurors would have seen a pathetic, disoriented woman. Would the jury have rendered a different verdict if they'd seen Yates in the state she was in just hours or days after she'd drowned her kids?

In contrast to the Yates case, jurors at the Lisa Diaz trial saw directly inside her harrowing world, where germs and worms and evil spirits tormented Diaz and her children. The morning of the slayings, the signs and omens had become clear, so Diaz did what any good mother would do: She set out to save her precious babies.

Darlina Crowder says only insanity could explain why 
Lisa Diaz killed her children.
Mark Graham
Darlina Crowder says only insanity could explain why Lisa Diaz killed her children.
Angel Diaz described his wife to the jury as a "loving 
Mark Graham
Angel Diaz described his wife to the jury as a "loving mother."

Wearing dark jail coveralls, Lisa Diaz perches uneasily on a chair, her long black hair parted on the side and hanging past her shoulders. Behind her is a white cinder-block wall of the Collin County Detention Center. The camera frame captures her face and upper body and remains fixed at the same distance throughout eight videos. Her male interrogator is unseen.

A pretty, waiflike Latina with a strong nose, brown eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses and a wide, full mouth, Diaz listens with suspicion as Dallas psychologist Jaye Crowder explains that he is there at the request of her court-appointed attorney, Steve Miller. It has been three weeks since Diaz's arrest, and Miller wants to have his client examined as soon after the events as possible. Diaz agrees to the interview in a soft voice.

She seems subdued, unexpressive but lucid. Over 12 hours of interviews, Diaz eventually describes why and how she killed her children. But she seems stumped by one of Crowder's first questions: describe how you grew up.

Born in 1970 and abandoned soon after by her mother, Lisa and her sister Michelle were raised by their great-grandmother until she was four. After the great-grandmother's death, the girls lived with their great-aunt, where they felt rejected. Their mother, Rosemary Cano, remarried and came to get them when Diaz was nine.

Her mother seemed "like a stranger," and the girls had trouble adjusting to her ways. Diaz had no contact with her father until a visit when she was a teenager. Diaz's stepfather, whom Diaz liked, left after four or five years.

Diaz admits that her mother probably should have left them with the great-aunt. As bad as her great-aunt's home was, Cano's household was worse. "You look a little tearful again," Crowder says. "Do you remember crying about it?"

"Yeah, at the beginning," Diaz says, taking off her glasses to wipe tears away.

Several hours into the examination, as Crowder begins asking about her fears and about her children, Diaz appears to withdraw into a shell. Her voice fades to a whisper, as if she's afraid guards will overhear. By tape eight, when Crowder presses her for details about the killings, Diaz stares at the floor, rocks back and forth, licks and bites her lips and obsessively rubs one shoulder. She pauses and mumbles and stares, then breaks down in wrenching sobs.

Never a disciplinary problem, Diaz made good grades in school until ninth grade, when she got pregnant and dropped out. She later earned a GED. Her first husband, David Sanchez, was controlling and jealous, she says. Diaz gave birth at age 17 to their daughter, Misty. A year later, in 1988, she had another child, whom she gave up for adoption. She married Sanchez when she was 19. The couple had many problems: Sanchez was ordered to attend anger management classes, and Diaz was prescribed Prozac for panic attacks. After several separations, they divorced in 1996.

Angel Diaz, whom Lisa met in Dallas at her job, was a godsend. Stable, well-educated, kind, he worked in quality control management. "He was just like the type of person that I had imagined for myself," Diaz says. They married in 1997, two days before Briana was born; Kamryn followed in 2000. After Briana's birth, Diaz became a stay-at-home mom. Though Diaz admits that she sometimes yelled at her children, she says she couldn't bring herself to spank them. She'd endured too much of that as a child.

They seemed a happy couple. But like many blended families, the Diazes had arguments about disciplining 16-year-old Misty and Angel's nine-year-old son from a previous relationship. But what upset Diaz most was when Angel called her a hypochondriac.

Crowder spends hours quizzing Diaz about her many physical ailments. They began, Diaz says, with a flu shot in January 2002.

"Driving home, I got a horrible, horrible headache…one of the worst headaches I've ever had," Diaz says. "I kept telling everybody that it was [after] that flu shot that I started having all these symptoms…And then the other thing that happened was, I started to feel…like kind of scared, paranoid."

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