Insanely Guilty

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

After the prosecution rested, Darlina Crowder says, "some of the jurors looked like they hated us."

When psychologist Rycke Marshall met Lisa Diaz for the first time in December 2003, she saw a fragile, almost gaunt young woman. She'd lost 30 pounds in jail.

Lisa Diaz breaks down while describing her daughters' 
Lisa Diaz breaks down while describing her daughters' drownings.
Her videotaped account was played for the jury.
Her videotaped account was played for the jury.

"I'm not sure I've ever been in the presence of someone whose pain was so palpable," Marshall says.

A stylish woman with close-cropped blond hair, Marshall spent five years in the late '70s as chief psychologist at Terrell State Hospital, where she was asked to testify at criminal trials. She now has a private practice in North Dallas. Of the four psychologists and psychiatrists who testified in Diaz's trial, Marshall's testimony lasted the longest.

In addition to reviewing the tapes and interviewing family members, Marshall spent about 20 hours talking to Diaz. "Andrea Yates would become immobile and nonfunctioning," Marshall says. "Lisa was quietly psychotic. She had a delusional disorder that is very unusual."

In all her years of practice, Marshall says, Diaz is the only patient she encountered who had no one she called mother. "It tells me about the absence of stability and predictability and healthy attachments in her life," Marshall says.

Contrary to her mother's rosy account, Diaz's childhood was a nightmare of abandonment and extreme emotional deprivation, Marshall testified. At their great-aunt's home, Michelle and Lisa slept on the floor. When she was four, Diaz claimed, her great-aunt tried to smother her with a pillow. From then until she was ten years old, Lisa often wet her bed and as punishment was sent to school in urine-soaked clothes.

When her mother came back into Diaz's life, she seemed like a stranger. "Lisa was very hopeful that her mother is coming to rescue her and Michelle," Marshall says, "but come to find out, it's at least as bad." Marshall would testify that Rosemary Cano was high-strung and demanding. The girls often went without food or clothes.

"The mother gets involved in drugs, leaving them in the car while she's in the clubs," Marshall says. "The girls are pretty much left to their own devices." Cano later spent time in prison on a drug charge.

Never part of her life, Diaz's father also did prison time. Showing up when she was 13, Diaz's father took his daughter for visitation, got drunk and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Marshall says that when Diaz talked about her father, "she was very sad, very frightened and very anxious, as if it said something bad about her." A bizarre visit by her father to the jail after Diaz's arrest, in fact, triggered a suicidal episode.

During her abusive first marriage, Marshall says, Diaz began to manifest depression, anxiety and a preoccupation with physical problems.

"When people are confused and have feelings they can't make sense of, they look for an anchor somewhere to explain it," Marshall says. "She has been abandoned so many times I imagine she has had this kind of depression all her life. When people begin to be delusional, they focus on some false belief. That becomes the glue that holds them together."

Though things improved when she married Angel, Lisa still faced the ordinary pressures of life: marital conflict, child-rearing problems and illness. Diaz fixated on the physical to explain her misery.

"There's the hope if it's something physical, it can be fixed," Marshall says. "Of course the flu shot had nothing to do with it. It simply coincided with a time she was feeling bad. As she became more and more depressed, which is partly a biological process, she became more and more focused on it being a physical problem until she developed a full-blown delusional disorder."

In the week before Diaz killed, Marshall says, she started drinking her own urine, a bizarre remedy she read about on the Internet.

"The things she does over time are more and more unusual and psychotic," Marshall says. "Then we're into omens and voices in her head telling her, 'You have to die.' " When Marshall asked Diaz who or what the voices were, she replied: "It was like the voice of doom."

After Laney's acquittal, Udashen sought advice from the Tyler woman's attorney. "They had a videotape that Dr. [Phillip] Resnick had made of Laney," Udashen says. "He convinced me that if I had that, to use it." The tapes would give Diaz a way to testify without going on the witness stand and would allow the jury to see her state of mind.

During Diaz's trial, Udashen played excerpts from each tape. At first Diaz is coherent, but she disintegrates in tapes seven and eight as the questions focus on the day she killed her children.

After driving Briana to kindergarten and buying a new hairbrush to replace the one she'd tossed, Diaz took Misty to school. When her daughter pointed out two crows on the lawn, Diaz took them as an omen that she and the girls must die that day.

At home, Diaz straightened up the house. Voices in her head said, "This is the day you have to do it. Today's the day you have to die." The family dog wouldn't come to her. Another sign.

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