Okee guys, time to revisit that age-old controversy: how much does mental illness impinge on moral accountability? This isn’t an academic question in the case of 22-year-old Danielle Wails of Newcastle upon Tyne, England, who called police one night to report that her house was burning down with her baby trapped inside. When detectives arrrived, she spun a fanciful tale about being tied up by intruders, and forced to dial 999 (British 911) with her tongue. As overdramatic as that sounds, newspapers ran with it as the official version of events.
Well, you all know what site you’re on, so you know the sad direction this is heading. The story unraveled. There were no intruders; Wails set the fire herself to try and “win back” the baby’s father. The blaze killed her son, Alexander Gallon. Wails was arrested and charged with murder. But at the recommendation of psychiatrists, she was allowed to plead to the lesser charge of infanticide, which earned the young mom a mere three months probation. Two experts testified that Danielle was suffering from postnatal depression (that’s postpartum depression to us States-siders), and therefore wasn’t legally culpable for her actions.
This may earn me some hate, but I call bullshit on that sentence. Let’s agree that PPD can be devastating, and that society can and must do better about recognizing and treating it. On the other hand…three months probation for the murder of your child?! I know many, many mothers who have suffered PPD – some of them severe cases. Not one ever decided to torch her house, and her baby along with it. On top of that, Wails had already been diagnosed with the condition, and was receiving treatment for it. So a reduced sentence, with PPD as a mitigating factor? That I could accept. But this sentence absolves Wails of ANY personal responsibility for her actions. It’s like being granted a retroactive license to kill.
Don’t think that I’m letting the dad off the hook, though. Why did Wails think that killing off his kid would “win him back”? Was that the delusional belief of a mentally ill woman…or an idea planted in her mind by the dad himself? If father Robert Gallon had anything to do with steering Wails’ mind towards murder, then he deserves to share a jail cell with Russell Yates.