A MEASURE OF JUSTICE
Like most people in the greater autism community, I followed the news reports about the trial, but my experience in litigating cases (including some of a high-profile nature) taught me that the press sometimes misses nuances. So I don’t always trust the press. But I do trust juries. Although juries occasionally get it wrong, they get it right far more often.
People who serve on juries, almost without exception, take their task very seriously. That’s not to say that judges do not; most do. Jurors, though, listen with ears that have not heard it all. They watch with eyes that have not become jaded. Most importantly, jurors infuse a human element into the proceedings; they understand that their decision will have an impact on everyone involved. It is that human element that adds an extra measure of justice to the law.
In this case, the jury found Karen McCarron guilty of murder. That jury heard all of the evidence presented by the prosecution and the defense. They were able to observe the manner in which the witnesses testified. Their decision is entitled to respect. Moreover, all indications point to their having got it right this time.
There were two things reported in the press during the trial that stood out for me. The first came in the testimony of Paul McCarron, Katie’s father. This is how the Pekin Daily Times described it:
After Paul and Katie spent several months in North Carolina, where Katie received therapy, both Paul and Karen decided to move Katie back to Morton. While Paul was in North Carolina finishing his work as an engineer with Caterpillar Inc., Karen brought Katie back.As a parent, I immediately identified with Mr. McCarron’s sentiments. There is no way in hell I would ever disown any child of mine, autistic or neurotypical. Karen McCarron’s idea of doing that to her child displayed a complete disconnection to her daughter that I cannot fathom. She committed the worst sin a parent can commit; she lost hope.
However, prior to Katie’s return, Karen asked Paul what he thought about putting Katie up for adoption.
When asked by Johnson how he replied to this, Paul said, “No way in hell.”
Of course, the defense in this case was based on mental illness. And the presence of mental illness seems pretty likely. Did it stem from the inability to accept a child’s disability after trying so hard to have a family (the Daily Times report cites two prior miscarriages)? Was it because Karen McCarron went off of her medications, or could it even have stemmed from being on the medications in the first place? Although it is human nature to speculate on such things, at the end of the day the cause of the mental illness is irrelevant. Whatever role mental illness played in Karen McCarron’s actions, the illness does not absolve her of legal or moral culpability for the murder.
I’m not sure what standard Illinois recognizes for an insanity defense, but I assume it is either the traditional McNaughton rule, or something similar. This is what I previously wrote on that subject:
There have been many comments made in various places about the mental state of the mother, but that does not begin to provide an answer about her moral culpability, or lack thereof.That leads to the second telling moment of the trial, as reported in the Associated Press:
As a very general statement, I think the McNaughton rule, recognized by most American jurisdictions in determining insanity as an exculpatory defense, stands as one of the rare instances in which law and morality actually match up. The test is whether an alleged perpetrator could appreciate the distinction between “right” and “wrong” at the time of an otherwise criminal event. That test is not satisfied if the defendant was unaware of a specific law, or if the defendant felt a mere moral justification. Rather, the rule tests whether the specific individual was intellectually, mentally, and emotionally capable of understanding that the ethics and mores of society hold the act to be wrong. My personal feeling has always been that any person who is capable of that understanding is under a moral obligation to seek help if he/she feels that he/she may have difficulty controlling an immoral or illegal impulse.
In a videotaped confession played in court Thursday, McCarron said she began having thoughts of hurting her daughter a year before the May 2006 slaying but put them out of her mind. On the day of the killing, though, the thoughts were stronger than ever.The video continued with Karen McCarron’s description of the murder ⎯ a description that is detailed, graphic, and horrifying. Then came the kind of question that good, experienced investigators ask:
“They were so intense,” McCarron said.
Interviewers asked McCarron if she knew what she did was criminally wrong.The jury got it right. Karen McCarron is guilty. And it’s important that we in the “cure” community say it.
“I have enough education to know that,” she answered.
It’s important because the excuses Karen McCarron threw out in that videotaped confession were themes that are identified ⎯ correctly or not ⎯ with us. She said she felt guilty over the vaccinations Katie received and she was distraught because the interventions she used failed to deliver a child free of autism. And it’s important for us to say it because, after the murder occurred, many in our community questioned what external problems may have been a factor. Many were folks who were struggling to understand how someone they considered a friend could have committed the worst of crimes. Well, we may not fully understand the “why,” but we now know that a lack of services had nothing to do with this tragedy.
This murder occurred because a mother stopped seeing humanity in her child. She couldn’t see her child at all: only the autism. Despite what our friends in the neurodiversity movement may say, I refuse to believe that such a failure is common among cure-oriented parents. But if that failure is part of any parent’s thought process, it is something we must all fight.
After the verdict, Paul McCarron released a statement that has found its way onto several sites. This is how it ends:
I ask all parents and especially those of children with disabilities to ALWAYS love your children and be proud of them. Cherish every moment you have with them. Love, patience and tender efforts are the best therapies.Indeed. I have said before that the love of a parent is the most important intervention for an autistic child. That love must be our guide in all other interventions. That love must keep us honest so that we may constantly examine our path anew lest we put our children in harm’s way. That love must give us hope to persevere.