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Experts clash on question of mother's sanity during killings

Louisiana's insanity defense was on full display when psychiatric experts retained by the defendant in a homicide case clashed with similar experts retained by the prosecutors in a criminal trial. The mother is facing a variety of criminal charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with the murder of her two young children in 2012. The mother is charged with fatally shooting her 3-year old son and drowning her 4-year-old daughter. In earlier testimony, the defendant confessed that she killed her children to spare them a life of poverty.

When the defendant's attorneys decided to assert the insanity defense, they must show that "because of a mental disease or mental defect the offender was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong with reference to the conduct in question." Two psychiatrists from Tulane University told the judge that, in their opinions, the defendant was in the middle of a psychotic episode on the day that she admittedly killed her children, and that she could not distinguish between the rightness and wrongness of her actions.

An expert psychiatric witness for the prosecution testified that, in spite of the woman's past history of mental illness, she was able to distinguish between right and wrong on the day of the murder. Both prosecution experts expressed the opinion that the defendant did not appear to be delusional when she committed the crimes. A second prosecution expert expressed the same opinion.

The case is not yet over. If the judge accepts the opinions of the defense experts, the defendant may still be placed in a state hospital for treatment. If the court accepts the opinions of the prosecution witnesses, the woman could face life imprisonment without possibility of parole.

Source: New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Doctors clash over Chelsea Thornton's sanity when killing her children," Ken Daley, Aug. 9, 2017

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