Many observers believe that attorney George Parnham is planning an insanity defense for
Narjes Modarresi, the 28-year-old mother accused of burying alive her two-year-old son Masih Golabbakhash last week. (At press time, Modarresi has been charged with capital murder and is being held without bail in the psych ward in the Harris County jail.)
Parnham successfully defended Andrea Yates, the Clear Lake mother who drowned all five of her children in 2001. In 2006, he was eventually able to persuade a jury that Yates had been legally insane at the time of the killings and thus win her a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. That got her a transfer from prison -- where she was serving a life sentence -- to a secure mental health facility.
Some are saying that Parnham will have a tougher row to hoe this time around. They say that Modarresi's actions in the aftermath of the tragedy differ significantly from those of Yates. For insanity to be established under Texas law, a defendant must be found to be incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. At first glance, that does not appear to be the case with Modarresi.
Whereas Yates calmly reported her own crime and turned herself in to the police, Modarresi concocted a story of her child's abduction. Isn't that the action of a calculated murderer?
Many seem to think so. This popular (if only semi-literate) comment from the peanut gallery at Chron.com typifies that position:
if she is insane, why did she try to hide the body and cover up the murder, she knew what she did was wrong i'm sure they are going to send her to the same place as andrea yates where they can be bossom buddies.
And much, much worse is to be found among the un-moderated comments elsewhere on the 'net.
this slampig is just evil and she had enough sense to lie to the cops about a fake kidnapping.i freakin hate when people defend worthless bitches like this one. what about that poor little baby? can u imagine what he went through?? this woman sucks and she should be set on fucking fire while hanging by her worthless neck.
But does Modarresi's having enough "sense to lie" automatically set her apart from Yates? Is it a clear indication of sanity and culpability? Does this case more closely resemble the Yates tragedy, or the unspeakably horrible murders by Susan Smith, who merely wanted her kids out of the way so she could start a new life with a new man?
Katherine Stone, an award-winning advocate and blogger on the subject of perinatal mood disorders, says she doesn't know all the facts about the Modarresi case, but when Hair Balls brought the Modarresi story to her attention, she steered us to the following information from the Postpartum Support International's web site:
It must be understood that a woman in a postpartum psychosis might understand the concept of right and wrong according to the law of the land, but at the same time might be hearing commands that she fully believes to arise from a higher and more powerful authority. These delusions are extremely powerful and she may feel compelled to follow instructions as if everything depended on her actions.
"It is possible that even with postpartum psychosis literally compelling a woman to commit a crime, she still could understand how people would react and thus feel the need to hide it in some way," Stone elaborated in an email to Hair Balls. "Many people with psychosis believe that no one else will understand the special messages they are receiving, or the special powers they have or the things they have been 'told' to do."
Yates believed that killing her children was the only way to save them from growing up evil and then going to hell. Parnham has said that in the weeks leading up to this tragedy, Modarresi had been saying something about people "with negative energy" wanting to hurt her two children. (Her three-year-old son survived his little brother.)
And like Modarresi's cover story, some of Yates's actions could be interpreted as indicating that she knew the difference between right and wrong. Before killing her children, Yates waited for her husband to go to work because she knew he would try to stop her from killing their children.
"If you were paranoid or knew that people would react negatively to or try to prevent you from doing something you believed you 'must' do, you would be less likely to tell the truth," Stone writes to Hair Balls. (Her discussion of the symptoms of post-partum psychosis in "plain mama English" is a must-read.)
Lastly, like Yates, and unlike Susan Smith, Modarresi had been treated for severe mental illness. She had been prescribed the hardcore anti-psychotic medication Zyprexa, which is used to treat schizophrenics and sufferers of bipolar disorder, which is seen as a risk factor in post-partum psychosis.
Doesn't someone prescribed anti-psychotics have to be psychotic? And isn't someone who is psychotic more commonly known as insane? And isn't insanity a valid defense in a murder case?