Insanity ruling isn't escape hatch

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Last week's hearing for an Augusta woman who stabbed her two children to death might be the first of many in her future.

Though some people believe mentally ill defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity spend little time in mental institutions, that isn't true, said Elena Carmen Nichita, who sees patients and teaches forensic psychiatry at the Medical College of Georgia.

Jeanette M. Hawes, 24, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a January bench trial. Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet must review her mental health reports each year to determine whether she can be released. Last week, he determined she wasn't ready.

Ms. Hawes stabbed 3-year-old Shakayla Hawes and 1-year-old Jordan Hawes to death in a convenience store restroom Nov. 29, 2007.

Two doctors who examined Ms. Hawes found that she was insane at the time of the killings. That is usually true of mothers who kill their children, Dr. Nichita said.

In the past 25 years, 61 percent of U.S. child homicide victims were killed by their parents, Dr. Nichita said. The United States also has the highest rate of filicide -- the killing of a child by a parent -- of all developed nations, she said.

"Nobody knows why," she said.

A finding of not guilty by reason of insanity is rare, Dr. Nichita said. Only about 1 percent of all felony defendants present an insanity defense, and only 25 percent of those are successful, she said.

One of the more recent high-profile cases involved Andrea Yates. In 2006, the Houston wife and mother was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2001 bathtub drownings of her five young children. She was originally convicted of murder, but the case was overturned on appeal because of erroneous testimony.

Her attorneys claimed she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and, in a delusional state, believed Satan was inside her and that she was trying to save the children from hell.

The 42-year-old was committed to a state mental hospital, with periodic hearings before a judge to determine whether she should be released.

Since 1982, an estimated 98 people have been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, which covers Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties.

In March, a judge conducting an annual review granted the prosecutor's request to continue William James Elam's hospitalization. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a January 1983 bench trial on a burglary charge, the district attorney's records show.

Dr. Nichita said she recently saw a committed patient who has been hospitalized for 25 years.

James Utley, hospitalized since July 1985, fatally stabbed his stepfather, Melvin Rainey Jr. Mr. Utley suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

The doctors who examined Ms. Hawes believe she suffered a psychotic break, possibly because of the onset of schizophrenia.

Ms. Hawes told the judge last week that she feels much better and is consistently taking her prescribed medication.

She is committed to the state psychiatric hospital in Savannah.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

Comments (27) Add comment
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helpicantfindthespacebar
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helpicantfindthespacebar 08/10/09 - 01:03 am
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Who gives a crap if she's

Who gives a crap if she's feeling 'much better'?? Keep this nutjob locked up forever! What happens if she has more children and goes off her meds again??

bone
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bone 08/10/09 - 04:35 am
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perhaps the U.S. has a high

perhaps the U.S. has a high rate of filicide because people know the law better than other countries: the insanity defense is a safe bet here. in not-so-developed countries, you'd probably just be stoned to death for killing your kids, which would likely cause you to pause before committing a selfish act like murder.

LadyCisback
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LadyCisback 08/10/09 - 06:29 am
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I agree with the above

I agree with the above comments.. she knew what she was doing and if justice is not served here on earth she will have to pay her dues when she dies and goes before our lord..

rufus
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rufus 08/10/09 - 07:01 am
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If someone is capable of a

If someone is capable of a psychotic break that allows them to kill their children they are not fixable, period.

andywarhol
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andywarhol 08/10/09 - 07:13 am
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It's not that people feel she

It's not that people feel she won't do much time that got most of us POed; it was the statement by the Judge saying she'll need to do at least another year. That indicated that she'll be free shortly.

getalife
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getalife 08/10/09 - 07:20 am
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I agree with all of the above

I agree with all of the above comments. This baby killer may be in the insane hospital for a long time or maybe she will be released next year. This hospital time is a lot easier than making regular prison time. People that kill their children should still get the death penalty or life in a regular prison. People that kill anyone are probably crazy in most instances, but that should not be an excuse for murder!!

onlynaugusta
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onlynaugusta 08/10/09 - 07:55 am
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She is crazy and the court

She is crazy and the court system that releases her is crazy as hell also. In my opinion, if she didn't want the children she could have abandoned them instead of killing them. There should be no exception for murder. She should be given the death penalty. This lady is young. She will probably get back on the streets and pro-create. Then when she kills them , I wonder what the stupid judge will have to say?

cmiller2469
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cmiller2469 08/10/09 - 08:11 am
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No matter what she should be

No matter what she should be fixed to not be able to have kids again!!!!

1941
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1941 08/10/09 - 09:23 am
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I bet most of you go to

I bet most of you go to church every sunday and praise the Lord, and wake up on monday morning, and see how nasty, you can be. What did you learn in church yesterday? Did you hear anything about, ;Judge not, unless Ye be Judged;

colcamp1
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colcamp1 08/10/09 - 09:34 am
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1941 you can forget this

1941 you can forget this crowd of holier than thous. They only reserve their compassion for a certain segment of the population, like the 14 year old that committed murder the other day. He fit their criteria for compassion.

curly123053
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curly123053 08/10/09 - 09:34 am
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I second cmiller's post ! But

I second cmiller's post ! But I bet the courts would consider that cruel and unusual punishment. I remember that argument being presented years ago in the SC courts but I do not remember the outcome. Anybody else recall?

mable8
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mable8 08/10/09 - 09:48 am
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Ms Hudson does not provide

Ms Hudson does not provide the number of "Not Guilty by reason of insanity" who leave the mental institutions within three years--and kill again. Andrea Yates first verdict was correct; the second verdict was only because the publicity dictated what the jury should decide. As for Hawes, she should have been found "Gulity, but insane" so that she would be sent to prison to serve an appropriate sentence: Life without parole. At least that way Ms Hawes would no longer be a danger to society, but would be deprived of becoming pregnant again so she could repeat the crime. Charles Manson had been committed and was released from a mental hospital when psychiatrists said he was no longer a danger to self or others. Manson told them he needed to remain in the hospital forever, but was discharged anyway (this is a matter of record). Everyone now knows the result of his release from the mental hospital. Does anyone really believe these two women will not kill again--especially where children are concerned? Yates knew what she was doing and so did Ms Hawes; both understood right from wrong.

InChristLove
22480
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InChristLove 08/10/09 - 10:19 am
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Not taking up for either of

Not taking up for either of these women but mabel8, how do you know what was going through these women's minds at the time. To me, anyone who would take the life of a child, has to be insane at the time. Do I want either of these women to have any more children or be allowed to do this again, NO, but paranoid schizophrenia and severe postpartum psychosis are real medical diagnosis and several mental disabilities. It's one thing to not want these women back out on the street and voice your opinion, but some on here are just cruel and nasty.

The Ode
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The Ode 08/10/09 - 10:20 am
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The mentally ill argument is

The mentally ill argument is just hogwash. These every psychiatrists and mental health professionals think they can diagnose some particular mental illness behind every evil person's actions. It is the same as diagnosing every child with some disorder like ADD when they misbehave and have no parenting and discipline. It is just pure hogwash in the 21st century America where personal accountability is nonexistent.

fht610
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fht610 08/10/09 - 10:23 am
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mable8, Charles Manson was

mable8, Charles Manson was released from PRISON on March 21, 1967 when he asked to be allowed to stay because he considered prison his home, NOT from a mental hospital. But then again, you probably also believe that it s "a matter of record" that Saddam organized 9/11.........

disssman
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disssman 08/10/09 - 12:17 pm
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But folks look at how much

But folks look at how much money we have saved since we started closing mental institutions and started placing patients in your neighborhoods. And if I am not correct, the first medical assistance to go to New Orleans was groups of counselors, apparently to calm everyone and tell them it was OK that their lives would not be impacted by loosing everything in life. In fact our whole lives are built around the statement" we just need to educate the public" which is the lead-in to resolving any problem you can mention from Race relations to medical care. I kinda got off topic, but I believe the head doctors have made great inroads in controling and manipulation of our judicial system.

whyme
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whyme 08/10/09 - 01:03 pm
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Wow. Love the compassion,

Wow. Love the compassion, insightfulness, and understanding that oozes out of this column. You don't have to agree with what you read or have any knowledge of the subjects presented in the AC, but with comments posted like the majority on here, you make Augusta look like a bunch of prejudiced (and this applies not just to race but to mental health, the poor, etc), uneducated and hypocritical losers. No surprise that this town isn't growing. As long as the AC allows this format to continue, this is what we'll have representing us.

justus4
103
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justus4 08/10/09 - 01:13 pm
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The system is operating
Unpublished

The system is operating correctly in this case, but the vast uninform citizenry will not recognize it due to historical prejudices. The guy that shot Regan was ruled insane and was hospitalized, but have improved to the point where he has liberty to spend time with family. He was mentally unstable and ruled as such...this woman has simuliar issues and the system should treat her in the same manner. This case demonstrates there is some hope for us after all.

xpresso1
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xpresso1 08/10/09 - 01:19 pm
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The devil probaly was inside

The devil probaly was inside Andrea Yates, she should have sought God. That is what is wrong with this world today people are not seeking God.

psholder
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psholder 08/10/09 - 02:57 pm
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Ahhhh, isn't that something.

Ahhhh, isn't that something. Last week I posted a message in response to some people that thought insanity is an easy way out. But looky here! We have an article that confirms my point. Its not an easy way out, plus you have to have a legit reason to claim insanity!!!!

grrrrrrrrrrrr fed up
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grrrrrrrrrrrr fed up 08/10/09 - 05:13 pm
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GUILTY is GUILTY insane Heck

GUILTY is GUILTY insane Heck no she knew exactly what she was doing .Keep her butt right in jail ............................

bone
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bone 08/10/09 - 06:49 pm
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Murder: punish the behavior,

Murder: punish the behavior, not the person. Our society has just lost all sense of reason when it comes to the criminal justice system. We spend so much time looking at race, mental state, and socioeconomic info that we take away objectivity from law. WHO CARES why she is a murderer or what she was thinking? In cold blood she murdered her children; what is so difficult about punishing this woman for committing murder?

KSL
131309
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KSL 08/10/09 - 07:18 pm
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It might hurt her feelings

It might hurt her feelings and damage her self esteem.

whyme
1864
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whyme 08/10/09 - 07:28 pm
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Hope you all are praying that

Hope you all are praying that you or your loved ones never experience an event which leads to mental illness-you'll never be able to handle it or the ridicule that you will endure, never mind getting involved in a crime. Punishment, absolutely, but all factors should be considered when delivering it. It's amazing how many people claim to know all of the facts. I look forward to serving each and every one of you in your time of mental health needs. At least I'll be compassionate.

KSL
131309
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KSL 08/10/09 - 07:43 pm
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Just curious, why did you

Just curious, why did you choose to go into that line of work. Have a great and intelligent friend who while going through medical school told us that it was easy to pick the specialty that would be doctors would choose based on their personalities.

bone
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bone 08/10/09 - 08:32 pm
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whyme, helping those who

whyme, helping those who suffer from mental illness is a fine profession. i appreciate all of the insight and relief i have received from psychologists over the years. the factors that contribute to evaluating and treating mental conditions should never be considered in an objective court of law deciding guilt or innocence in murder. compassion has NO BUSINESS in a court of law in a country of laws. where was the mother's compassion for her children? oh, right, i forgot: a mental health professional would probably argue that she was showing her children the most compassion that she was capable of showing in her state of mind. give me a break...have some mercy on the soul of the woman and empathy for her anguished state of mind, but punish her as our society would punish any murderer.

Manee03
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Manee03 08/10/09 - 11:14 pm
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That's CRAP so if everybody

That's CRAP so if everybody decided to go ahead and stab their children in a convenience store, they could just stay that they were not in the right stat of mind and get away with it......okay lets see how well that rules over with society. Lets just give her a slap on the wrists and put her on medication... All I have to say to that is WHATEVER MAN!!! throw her in the hole!!

whyme
1864
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whyme 08/12/09 - 10:42 pm
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What you are not getting-no

What you are not getting-no surprise-is that there are different levels of criminals and criminal behavior. You can't lump all criminals into one bunch...well, I guess you can if you're a regular in this forum. I support "throwing" sociopaths and the like "in the hole" as they have no remorse and don't want to have any. There are plenty of criminals like that roaming around. Then you have the others who have psychosis or other mental illnesses that also deserve to serve time but also require, and can benefit, from treatment...and not all are murderers. It's not all clear-cut, and thank goodness there are people-judges, lawyers, doctors-who are willing to sort these folks out appropriately. To all you who are so sure of your punishment: what if you or a loved one was in a car accident, developed a head injury, ended up brain damaged, and killed some reason? Should there be any deliberation or just toss you in with all of the other criminals?

Just trying to give you all some thought-provoking info....

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