Michigan Mother Found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity For Infanticide

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The Detroit Free-Press is reporting that Shontelle Cavanaugh, a mother who committed infanticide while suffering from postpartum psychosis, was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

"A jury today found a former honor student at Oakland University not guilty by reason of insanity in the smothering death of her 9-month-old baby nearly five years ago.

Shontelle Cavanaugh, 28, smiled, and her family wept as the jurors announced their decision, finding her not guilty of second-degree murder. Cavanaugh, who had been diagnosed with postpartum depression at the time she smothered Simone Cavanaugh, will be sent to the state Center for Forensic Psychiatry where she will be evaluated by doctors.

Her attorney, Richard Convertino, said he would seek her immediate release … Convertino argued that Cavanaugh, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder [which is a serious risk factor for postpartum psychosis], was insane at the time …"

Diana Lynn Barnes testified on Shontelle's behalf. Diana is a past president of Postpartum Support International, a forensic expert on cases such as these, and the author of "TheJourney to Parenthood."

Now. Let's be clear. A life was lost here. Tragically. I am not condoning that. I don't celebrate it. I don't take it lightly. I'm horrified by it. But what horrifies me the most is that women who are suffering from postpartum psychosis would not receive the care they deserve and must have — the kind of care that would prevent such things from ever happening in the first place. These women are at the mercy of a very serious illness.

As I was quoted in a recent storyon the HoustonPress' website regarding another recent tragedyin Texas:

Katherine Stone, an award-winning advocate and blogger on the subject of perinatal mood disorders, says she doesn't know all the facts about the Modarresi case, but when Hair Balls brought the Modarresi story to her attention, she steered us to the following information from the Postpartum Support International's web site:

It must be understood that a woman in a postpartum psychosis might understand the concept of right and wrong according to the law of the land, but at the same time might be hearing commands that she fully believes to arise from a higher and more powerful authority. These delusions are extremely powerful and she may feel compelled to follow instructions as if everything depended on her actions.

… (Her discussion of the symptoms of post-partum psychosis in "plain mama English" is a must-read.)

I know it's very hard for people who've never been psychotic to understand. It's hard for me to understand. But it is possible for people to commit heinous acts while driven by psychosis, acts that they would never otherwise commit. Until we can ensure that all women with postpartum psychosis are protected and treated byhealthcare professionalswho know what they are doing, these tragedies will continue to happen. I'm glad the jury recognized that Shontelle was truly ill.

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About Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

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Comments

  1. I completely agree with you.

  2. Augusta says:

    Now. Let's be clear. A life was lost here. Tragically. I am not condoning that. I don't celebrate it. I don't take it lightly. I'm horrified by it. But what horrifies me the most is that women who are suffering from postpartum psychosis would not receive the care they deserve and must have — the kind of care that would prevent such things from ever happening in the first place. These women are at the mercy of a very serious illness.
    Okay, Katherine, NO ONE is celebrating the baby's life lost. What IS a sigh of relief is that there will not be any long term incarceration. You, of all people, should KNOW that PPP is a short-term momentary awful experience. It doesn't linger into five years. Perhaps that's why this woman's attorney will be petitioning for immediate release from the psychiatric hospital…WHICH, in the forensic's unit, IS incarceration, and the "professionals" within are NOT skilled, equipped, trained, or educated in dealing with such disorders. I should know, I've been there. What's different is that this is a state forensics hospital vs. a prison, where by the mental health treatment may be an upgrade and the environmet, too, but it's a prison, no less.
    An outpatient treatment program would be more optimal. And it's five years later, Katherine, so let's be real……..she's not under the "influence" of the psychosis, itself at this point. Her illness then was very real and for her it'll be a life-long traumatic journey in healing through it and dealing with her future, especially with her own diagnosis of BPD.
    I don't know why you feel always feel compelled to express that you need to be "clear," and that you're not condoning an infant's life lost. I don't believe anyone thinks that you are…no less than an attorney who would represent a woman in this case. Right now, the next life lost is that of this woman. She has a 100x fold-chance of commiting suicide, because of this history, ther resulting PTSD, and her life-long outcast stigma. Do you condone that? I don't think so, but I just wanted to be clear.

  3. Yesterday, I got my arse chewed out and handed to me by fellow coworkers who are MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS. They were discussing this case and said some pretty hurtful and untrue things about women with PPD. I wrote a blog post about it as it was extremely upsetting to me.
    http://makemommygosomethingsomething.wordpress.co
    Katherine, I aggree 100% with what you said.

  4. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    For the life of me I'm not sure why you were upset by what I wrote. I'm happy that Shontelle was found not guilty. And I didn't state that she is under the influence of psychosis at this point — that was a quote from another article on a different case about the fact that women who commit infanticide when they have postpartum psychosis are controlled by the illness. I never said she is still sick five years later.
    I know what happened is not her fault. So I'm glad she's not going to jail and was exonerated.

  5. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    That's precisely why I said what I said in
    my post. Because there are a LOT of people
    who will chew your ass out and mine because
    they think that we're celebrating someone
    "getting off" from committing infanticide.
    They aren't willing to accept that postpartum
    psychosis could cause a woman to do something
    that is not within her character. That's
    why I try to make it clear that we're not
    forgetting a life was lost. We weep for the
    loss of children and mothers to perinatal
    mood and anxiety disorders. We just know
    these tragedies are preventable and that
    it's not their fault.

  6. AMEN!

  7. Polly Endicott says:

    Are we ready yet to talk about the abusive acts we have committed while suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis? I'm sure I am not alone in this. My kids and I have been through a lot of good therapy and healing. It was hell at the time. We worked very hard to heal. It was frightening and it continues to be scary to talk about; but I, for one, want to. Anyone else? Any why talk about it? Healing. Healing and forgiveness and moving on.