Feb 212002

Four years ago she killed her two children, and now she is back home.

Her name is Bethe Feltman. She is a convicted killer but she suffers from postpartum depression. She was released from the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo, and has been put under “community placement” at her home in Jefferson County.

According to authorities, Feltman drugged and suffocated her children on April 9, 1998. Her husband, Wayne, found the children, 3-month-old-Moriah and 3-year-old Benjamin, when he came home from his job at the Denver Federal Center.

Feltman was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and her sentence was to be committed to the state hospital for a “one day to life” term. She was released based on her mental progress according to hospital staff and her doctors, who still keep constant vigilance over her. She is required to take group therapy and class sessions at least two days a week.

Was Feltman’s sentence a slap on the wrist? I think so. I’m angry that a judge or a jury could rule that this woman could be cured in as little as one day. I don’t know who is crazier – the killer or the people who created her sentence.

Today in Houston, a similar situation is unfolding with another mother suffering from postpartum depression, Andrea Yates. Yates is accused of murdering her five children by drowning them in a bathtub. She faces the death penalty, and a judge recently allowed the showing of more than two dozen photos taken at the crime scene to the jury. Like Feldman did four years ago, Yates is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

It is known Yates was taking medication for her postpartum depression, and she had attempted suicide twice. I’m wondering how she was still allowed to take care of her children alone.

I’m also wondering what would be a more appropriate sentence for someone who, according to her lawyers, “was so depressed she did not know the difference between right and wrong.” Will Yates get a sentence similar to the Colorado child killer? While I hope she doesn’t get the death penalty, I think she should spend many years in a hospital, at least more than four.

There isn’t much known about the cause of postpartum depression. The Office on Women’s Health states that a condition known as the “baby blues” happens to many new mothers in the days following childbirth and is characterized by sudden mood swings ranging from euphoria to intense sadness.

Although, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, only 10 percent of cases of the “baby blues” result in postpartum depression. It is even more rare that women murder their children because of it. If Yates was taking medication and had thought about suicide, she, or at least someone near to her, should have realized the dangerous situation that was about to take place and sought more help and supervision.

I don’t think that ruling homicidal postpartum mothers insane is wrong, but I think four years is a bit too soon to be placed back into the community after killing your own children. There needs to be more research done on this condition, but for the time being, let’s hope the jurors in the Yates trial have more sense than the Colorado courts.

Josh Hardin is a senior majoring in technical journalism.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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