Monday, January 10, 2005

A case of life imitating art... NOT!

The other day after having watched back to back episodes of "Law & Order" on TNT and feeling sad over the loss of Jerry Orbach (Det. Lennie Briscoe on the show) I switched over to the news where the story broke that Andrea Yates’ murder conviction for drowning her children in the bathtub was overturned by an appeals court. This was because the psychiatrist for the prosecution gave erroneous testimony that suggested Yates got the idea from a non-existent episode of "Law & Order."
MSNBC - Convictions overturned for mom who drowned 5 kids

I remember as a child I would emulate things that I saw on TV, but then I reached an age when I knew that I had to hang up my Fonzie leather jacket and start acting more responsibly. While I was trying to start a jukebox by hitting it, other kids were trying to copy criminal acts that they saw on cop shows with very little success. These kid’s sentencing would wind up on the news and somewhere in the story the TV show would be admonished. Shame on you, "Adam12". Again we are talking kids. At a certain age some switch should click in our brains that tells us that we can't do the stuff we see professional actors and stunt people doing on TV. Sadly for some their switch is broken, was never installed or turned back to the off position.

Usually the worst thing that these people do is slap a soap opera actor who plays a villain on the show when they see them in public (a problem that is more common in New York & Los Angeles). Equally sad is that there are a greater number of people who are willing to blame the media rather than take personal responsibility for their actions. This time that knee jerk blame shifting led to a huge miscarriage of justice.

I am not trying to make light of the death of five children, but I do find it amusing when the appeals court based its reversal on false testimony by a prosecution witness, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, who had stated that the killings occurred shortly after an episode of the NBC police drama in which a woman drowned her children and was acquitted by reason of insanity. And other witnesses testified that Yates watched the television series, allowing the prosecution to suggest that Yates had seen the show and used the plot to plan the murders of her children. Jurors did not learn until after Yates was convicted that the episode never existed. At the time of the trial there must have been well over 200 episodes of "Law & Order" (not including its spin-offs) that have aired. So even a regular viewer of the show might think, Oh I must have missed that one, but still if I was on that jury I would have asked to see a copy of the "Law & Order" episode in question that was used as a blueprint for the crime instead of just connecting the dots. I'm sure that in a small way this event is a testament to the brilliant writing and acting on the "Law & Order" shows. So brilliant that a jury easily accepted the idea of an episode where a woman drowned her children and was acquitted by reason of insanity actually aired.

I learned after a personal loss that a death is only senseless only if nothing is done about it. We have a great opportunity to learn from what happened to Andrea Yates and other women who suffer from postpartum depression in the hopes these types of deaths can be prevented in the future. Then perhaps those five children would not have died in vain. And maybe we won't so quick to dismiss an event as someone doing something they saw on a TV show.

If only Det. Lennie Briscoe was around to see this. I am sure he would know just the right thing to say for me to quote here.

Jerry you were my favorite part of the show.

Stay Tuned

Tony Figueroa
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