Even at public trial, Schlosser is alone

McKINNEY – Looking across the courtroom at Dena Schlosser, I got the feeling that if everybody in the room stood up and walked out of the building – judge and jurors, bailiffs and lawyers – she would just sit, staring blankly, waiting with inert passivity for whatever was going to happen to her next.

It might be the heavy-duty anti-psychotic drugs, of course, or it might be the sheer misery of being on public trial after being accused of the unfathomably grotesque crime of butchering her own infant daughter with a kitchen knife. But Ms. Schlosser’s lethargic despair might also be symptomatic of her own isolation.

Where would she go? Her mother is old and sick; her husband is divorcing her; her minister, whose bizarre teachings might have influenced her garbled thinking, seems anxious to put as much distance as possible between himself and his infamous ex-parishioner.

“I talked to her one minute at the most at any time,” Plano minister Doyle Davidson testified.

While Mr. Davidson takes some rather unusual views of Scripture – he believes mental illness is caused by demonic possession, and, closer to home, he is convinced that God has “married” him to a woman who is already married to somebody else – he doesn’t want anybody thinking he had much to do with the Schlossers. Even craziness has its relative limits.

Some people – a compassionate minority, I suspect – look at Ms. Schlosser’s case and feel pity for her terrible mental sickness.

A larger number seem to feel only rage that a mother could deliberately hack the arms off her own helpless baby.

I’ve seen several comments from people who say they’re fed up with mothers, starting with the notorious Andrea Yates, who have used postpartum psychosis as an “excuse” to “get away with” murdering their children – as if there were some comprehensible benefit to them for committing infanticide, if only they could avoid the legal consequences.

Ms. Yates, convicted of capital murder after drowning her children, won a new trial that is scheduled to start next month.

“On the crazy woman that cut up her child,” one reader wrote to our reporter who has followed the Schlosser story, “I hope they throw that [expletive] in the craziest jailhouse, ’cause those guards will turn their backs while they tear her to pieces.” Others say she should simply be executed.

Beyond the shock and sadness that Ms. Schlosser’s case evokes, I also feel a large measure of exasperation.

I’m exasperated that Ms. Schlosser’s husband so obviously did not grasp the severity of her mental problems and that the woman herself so stubbornly resisted taking the medication that might have helped her.

I’m exasperated that, while so many churches might have recognized a family in crisis and offered support and guidance, the Schlossers chose a splinter sect unhelpfully obsessed with spirits and demons.

It’s profoundly exasperating that Ms. Schlosser never received more than 15 minutes of psychiatric counseling a month, which might as well have been nothing at all.

And it’s exasperating that there’s nothing now to be done but address Ms. Schlosser through a system that is equipped to handle burglars and rapists but has a harder time making fine distinctions in the wide gray area between culpability and craziness.

The ultimate exasperation will belong to the Collin County jury that has to decide whether Ms. Schlosser is guilty of capital murder and belongs in prison or is insane and belongs in a mental hospital. So far, the prosecutors have done a workmanlike job of presenting their case, but jurors will have to map out Ms. Schlosser’s degree of responsibility on their own.

A lot of people seem to think Dena Schlosser should “pay” for what she did, as if anything that could be done to her – including throwing her into a prison to be “torn to pieces” – would provide a kind of equivalent justice, would somehow balance out the hideous reality of a dead, mutilated baby.

The primary responsibility for baby Maggie Schlosser’s death lies with her mother.

And I don’t even know if you can fairly argue that Ms. Schlosser was herself a victim of the people and circumstances closest to her.

But they sure didn’t help.

Jacquielynn Floyd writes a column for The Dallas Morning News.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Dallas Morning News, USA
Feb. 16, 2006 Column
Jacquielynn Floyd

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday February 17, 2006.
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