Mom Kills Kids, and No one Notices She’s nuts?
Sept. 2, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — It was a horrible crime. A 22-year-old mom, Mireya Alejandra Lopez, in Avondale, Arizona drowned her twin boys because she thought “nobody loved them and nobody loved her.” At first, she “spoke spontaneously” to police and made some incriminating statements. Then, in a later interview, she said she didn’t want the kids to grow up “living a difficult life.” She said they “needed to be at peace.”
The woman is clearly mentally ill. The first clue is the crime, something no sane person would do. The second clue, if it is in fact true, is that she spontaneously confessed to police. I’m always surprised by the frequency of suspects whom officers accuse of making such spontaneous statements, but who insist they were actually being interrogated when they made them. It’s almost like officers know courts are not going to suppress statements characterized as “spontaneous.” Regardless, if she really did do it, seeing a couple of cops and admitting that you just held your toddlers under water until they died is not exactly a sane thing to do.
So what do the police do? They interview her at length, of course, and invariably without counsel present. A good lawyer would never in a million years let her say another word to police. Someone not in her right mind is unlikely to have the good sense to invoke her right to counsel. The same is true of a severely injured or generally traumatized person, yet these are all people from whom police regularly extract confessions. And courts regularly condone the practice.
The woman, of course, eventually explained that she had a history of mental illness and was on drugs when it happened. They did not stop the interview there. She said she suffered from manic depression, psychosis, and schizophrenia, and that she took medication for her illnesses. They did not stop the interview there either. The article doesn’t say whether she was on her medications at the time of the offense. At her initial appearance in court, just like during her multiple conversations with police, this mentally ill and perhaps intoxicated woman had no lawyer again.
In the video of the hearing contained in the article, she stands in front of a judge all alone. The judge gets her name and date of birth and tells her she’s facing two counts of murder in the first degree and one count of attempted murder in the first degree. He then tells her he’s appointed a lawyer, but there’s no lawyer anywhere to be seen. The same woman who drowned her two children so they could be at peace, the same woman with various mental health problems and who apparently blurted out incriminating statements to police then later spilled her guts without requesting a lawyer, is all alone in court at the hearing where the judge makes his initial bail determination. She’s already proven herself unfit to make important decisions and exercise her rights.
When the prosecutor asks for a two million dollar bond, unsurprisingly, the court obliges. The factors the prosecutor cites are the fact they were her own children, that they were two years old, and that the case may become capital case. The first two reasons don’t even make sense. Would it be lower if she’d drowned someone else’s kids? If they’d been a little younger? Or a little older? That it may later become a case where she faces the death penalty only worsens the fact she is mentally ill, maybe intoxicated, and unrepresented by counsel throughout. She surely would have benefitted from the assistance of counsel.
Although her lawyer will likely challenge the release conditions the judge imposed, having been in that very courtroom more times than I can recall, I’ve found that the initial appearance sets the tone for the rest of the case. It may change later, but a multi-million-dollar bond is far less likely to turn into release on one’s own recognizance than would be the case with a much smaller amount.
Furthermore, because the rule here requires a change in circumstances to modify a bond, the prosecutor’s office will almost certainly argue later on that either nothing is different or that some form, which the court never actually considered, contained the important stuff the defense later cites anyway. It’s an easy way for a court to avoid the nasty hassle of revisiting it’s very high bail decision.
Obviously, allowing the woman to argue her side would have been a double-edged sword. Unrepresented clients’ pro se bail arguments rarely help their cases in the long term, but there’s something very troubling when the defense gets no say at all. As it stands, people who are plainly incapable of furthering their own interests are either left to attempt to do just that or ignored altogether at important times.
Without so much as a peep from the defense, a twenty-two-year-old mentally ill woman now has a bond the requesting prosecutor and the ordering judge could likely never afford. It might as well be set at a googolplex. I doubt that the prosecutor’s comment about not seeking “a non-bond position” was intended to be funny, but it’s hard to say what’s more concerning; joking about a meaninglessly high bond, or being so detached from reality so as to be unable to see it for what it is.
What was probably intended to be a straightforward article about an unthinkable crime actually offers an interesting glimpse into the inner workings of the criminal justice system in Arizona. The mentally ill, represent a sadly large percentage of defendants. Despite their often obvious problems, they are treated more or less like everyone else from the start. They’re subject to the same interrogations and appear alone in the same court. It’s not something the public seems eager to fix. Hers was an ugly crime, after all, and somebody is going to have to pay, mentally ill or not.