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  • Charlize Cruger

Mother Suffering From Postpartum Psychosis Tried for Infanticide

Lindsay Clancy was a young mother in Duxbury, Massachusetts, where she lived with her husband Patrick and their three children: 5-year-old Cora, 3-year-old Dawson, and 8-month-old Callan. On January 24, 2023, Lindsay asked her husband to go to CVS and then pick up dinner. Upon arriving home, Patrick found his wife seriously injured in the backyard. He immediately called 911 and asked her what she had done, to which she replied “I tried to kill myself and jump out the window.” Patrick then asked where the children were and Lindsay said they were in the basement. Going down to check on them, Patrick found his three children with exercise cords around their necks. As he untangled them, 911 dispatchers heard him beg his children to breathe between his cries. Lindsay and her three children were rushed to the hospital, where she was found paralyzed from the waist down. Cora and Dawson were pronounced dead that same day, and Callan died three days later.

Upon later investigation, it was determined that Lindsay gave no immediate signs that she would — or could — do something like this. However, investigations concluded that she was suffering from postpartum depression, in addition to previously existing mental health issues. As such, the Clancy case almost immediately sparked a discussion about postpartum mental illnesses and mental health care in America.

On February 7, 2023, the Plymouth County District Court held an arraignment hearing for Lindsay, which she had to zoom into from her hospital bed. The hearing focused on Lindsay’s postpartum mental condition and treatment. Lindsay’s lawyer, Kevin Reddington, asserted that Lindsay should not be held responsible for the murder of her children as she was simultaneously suffering from postpartum depression and overmedicated for the condition, which fundamentally impaired her actions. Prosecutor Jennifer Sprauge, assistant County District Attorney, argued that Lindsay was getting effective treatment for her illness and was, therefore, of sound mind when planning and executing the murders.

To investigate the role of mental illness in this case, both sides called on expert testimony and the court allowed Lindsay to have a mental health evaluation. One expert for the defense, Lisa Cosgrove, conceded that many doctors often give excessive amounts of medication to patients. On the other hand, Dr. Nancy Byatt claimed that "There's no evidence to suggest that using multiple medications increases the risk of tragic outcomes.” However, Patrick Clancy recounted how Lindsay seemed to be prescribed too many medications that didn’t work and gave her “the worst side effects possible.” Thus, the defense argued that Lindsay was far from over her postpartum depression on the day of the murders, despite the insistence of the County that Lindsay was getting better.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Paul Zeizel’s evaluation of Lindsay further suggests that she also suffered from postpartum psychosis (or PPP). Differing from postpartum depression in severity, women suffering from PPP can experience a variety of symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, mood changes, and/or disturbance of consciousness. According to Patrick’s accounts and Dr. Zeizel’s evaluation, Lindsay was experiencing such symptoms leading up to the murders.

While this case has focused on postpartum mental health illnesses, many experts claim that attorneys have largely ignored the nuances surrounding such illnesses. Primarily, the prosecution depicts Lindsay as a monster who premeditated the murder of her children rather than a victim of serious mental illnesses, for which she was not properly treated. One in seven women experiences postpartum depression and one to two in 1,000 women experiences postpartum psychosis. New mothers facing such illnesses, however, often avoid seeking help due to several fears and stigmas around these conditions. Some experts fear that the negative portrayal of Lindsay Clancy could further deter women from seeking the help they need. Additionally, some experts assert that Sprague’s argument that Clancy was getting better and showed no signs of dangerous behavior is misleading. In many cases, and especially in those concerning psychosis, symptoms are not as obvious to other people. As Sarah Baroud — therapist and member of the Postpartum Support International chapter in Massachusetts — said “People assume people will talk or look a certain way. That’s not the case.” Baroud explained that people suffering from psychosis might move between feeling normal and having a psychotic break without warning.

While there have been recent efforts by experts to destigmatize postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis (PPP) is often not given the same attention. In fact, the only attention PPP seems to get is the media reports of extreme cases that end in infanticide, such as Lindsay’s. This lack of proper communication and education can leave many women to endure PPP alone, without knowing how to get proper help — or even that they’re facing a very serious illness. Further, new mothers often fear that admitting to having any postpartum mental illness could lead to their family losing trust in their ability to mother or, worse, their children being taken away. It is therefore important for new mothers to know that in most cases, the government cannot take away their children just because of the existence of a mental illness. It is also important for society to understand that suffering from PPP does not make someone a bad or unfit mother. With proper support and treatment mothers can recover from this condition without any harm being done to themselves or their children.

In extreme cases, courts usually allow mothers charged with infanticide to plead insanity when they are believed to suffer from PPP. The outcome of such a plea, however, depends on the jury and the state in which the trial is located. Numerous factors can impact how a jury decides on infanticide cases where mothers plead insanity. For example, miseducation about postpartum mental illnesses might mean jurors don’t understand how having PPP could influence a mother’s mental state and behavior. Other influential factors include the jury members’ gender, moral disengagement and cognitive processing style. Further, different states use different tests for insanity, with the most common being the M'Naughten test and the model penal code test. The former asks defendants to show that, at the time of the crime, they did not understand what they were doing or that it was wrong. The latter asks defendants to additionally show that they could not have acted in conformity with the law at the time of the crime. In many cases, PPP does not satisfy these tests and, as studies have shown, many mothers are not able to successfully employ an insanity defense to deny criminal responsibility. Thus, courts' allowance of an insanity plea in infanticide cases is a good starting point for mothers suffering from PPP, but there is still a long way to go to increase the court’s recognition of the nuances of this condition.

In Lindsay’s case, PPP was not the only piece of the puzzle. Lindsay did communicate with her husband about her symptoms and they sought help from medical experts. The help they received, however, was inadequate. Patrick reported to attorneys that his wife seemed overmedicated and acted, while on some medications, like a zombie. Such context could support the defense in arguing that Lindsay is not criminally responsible for her actions if they choose to make an insanity plea. In Massachusetts, courts use the model penal code test, which places the burden of proof on the state to show that the defendant was able to distinguish right from wrong and that they could have acted in conformity with the law. At the arraignment hearing, the state prosecutors already argued that Lindsay seemed lucid in the moments leading up to the murders to suggest she was of sound mind at the time. While this was not a sentencing trial, the prosecution's approach might suggest how they will argue against Lindsay in the future.

For now, however, Judge Canavan decided to withhold bail and set May 2, 2023 as the next hearing date. The prosecution also anticipates a grand jury indictment, which would take this case to superior courts. Until then, Lindsay Clancy will stay at a Boston hospital under surveillance.


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