Experts: Trial will help focus on mental illness
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Experts believe a new trial for a Des Moines woman could reopen discussion about postpartum psychosis.
Last month, the Iowa Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Heidi Anfinson, who was previously convicted of killing her 2-week-old son.
She faces a new trial on murder charges next year.
Some experts are praising the decision to grant Anfinson a new trial.
Attorney George Parnham, who represented Houston mother Andrea Yates, who killed her five children in 2001 but was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity, says the new trial marks a significant step in the right direction by recognizing postpartum psychosis as an issue.
The trial, “marks a very significant move in the right direction,” Parnham said.
As Yates’ attorney, Parnham argued that she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis when she drowned her children, who ranged from 6 months to 7 years old, in a bathtub.
Experts say each case involving a mother who kills their children is different. But they say that each case merits a complete investigation — both for the sake of the mother and to prevent future tragedies in the home.
“Women’s health has never been at the forefront of attention,” said Darlene Gibson, nurse manager in maternity services at Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines. “But until we educate ourselves, we’re going to have this going on.”
Iowa Methodist is part of the Iowa Health System, which recently began screening all new mothers for postpartum depression.
In Anfinson’s case, the family suspected postpartum problems, though that was not initially argued in court. In 1998, more than one Des Moines police officer found it odd that Anfinson showed little emotion when questioned about her missing baby.
The new mother, who was then 38, cried when — after intense questioning — she led officers to the limp body of her son Jacob at the Sandpiper Recreational Area.
Her lawyer in her first two trials, Bill Kutmus, argued that Jacob drowned when Anfinson neglectfully walked away from the infant’s bath to use the telephone.
Kutmus argued that Anfinson then panicked and drove the baby to a recreation area near Saylorville Lake. After questioning, she eventually led police to water about a foot deep, where Jacob was found weighed down with 25 pounds of rocks.
In a post-conviction relief petition, Anfinson’s family argued that her lawyer did not pursue evidence of postpartum psychosis and Anfinson’s history of childbirth-related mental problems.
Kutmus represented Anfinson in her first trial in 1999, which ended in a hung jury, and the 2000 trial at which she was convicted.
“I could just tell something wasn’t right after Jacob was born,” said Irv Hoffbauer, Heidi Anfinson’s father. “She wasn’t eating right. Her memory was flaky.
“I was the one person in the family at the time who thought so. I brought up to her sisters that I thought somebody should stay with her, and they all just thought I was imagining things. But they were so enamored with the fact that they were going to have a nephew. …”
Experts and medical organizations have blamed a slew of biological and environmental factors for the mood swings and anxiousness typically associated with the “baby blues” and more rare and potentially life-threatening forms of major depression or psychosis women experience after childbirth.
Postpartum depression reportedly affects one to four mothers in every 1,000. Postpartum depression usually begins within the first two weeks after childbirth. In recent years, celebrities such as Brooke Shields and Marie Osmond have been praised for raising awareness about postpartum depression, a condition that can affect as many as 15 percent of new mothers.
Joyce McConnell, dean of the West Virginia College of Law, who has researched the medical and psychological reasons women harm their children, said experts still aren’t clear on the causes of postpartum psychosis.
“It’s only within the last six years that researchers have begun to take this seriously and done more research,” McConnell said.
Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
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