fb-pixel Skip to main content

After Duxbury, conversations we need to have

The killings of three children allegedly by their Duxbury mother are prompting vital conversation about postpartum disorders. Let’s talk about mental illness and the criminal justice system too.

A crowd of people attended a memorial service for the Clancy family on Thursday at Holy Family Church in Duxbury.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

People can be kind.

Alongside the revulsion at what she has allegedly done, there has also been remarkable compassion for Lindsay Clancy, and immense support for her husband. Clancy, a nurse, allegedly strangled to death her three children, ages 5, 3, and 8 months, before leaping from a window at their Duxbury home. It appears she was suffering from a postpartum disorder after the birth of her third child. Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz has charged her with murder.

Donations are pouring in to a fund-raising campaign to help her husband pay funeral bills and legal expenses, with more than $500,000 raised in just a few days. Along with expressions of sympathy, donors are sharing their own struggles with postpartum disorders. The Globe has also been fielding stories from readers who battled anxiety and depression after giving birth, some of whom could not get the help they desperately needed.

These are long-overdue conversations. We expect so much of mothers, and of parents in general, but offer too little in the way of support. And effective mental health care can be appallingly hard to come by, given the skewed priorities of our health care system. Twenty percent of women suffer from mental health disorders during pregnancy or postpartum. In rare cases, anxiety and depression give way to psychosis.


It shouldn’t take the killings of three children to force us to confront these inadequacies. But as Clancy faces the consequences of her alleged actions, we ought to put another topic on the table: the abject failure of our criminal justice system to contend with mental illness.

The inability of our prisons and jails to care for those with serious mental illness — a quarter of those held in Massachusetts prisons, by some estimates — have been well-documented. But those people — and the rest of us — are failed in courtrooms, too, as people who are clearly ill are prosecuted as if they weren’t.


It doesn’t always happen: In 2019, for example, Quincy mother Xue Fang Chi was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 2009 killing of her 9-year-old daughter and the fetus she was carrying. In a decision supported by the Norfolk DA, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital.

But Latarsha Sanders didn’t get the same consideration after she killed her two sons, ages 5 and 8, in horrific stabbings in 2018. Her family said Sanders, a loving mother, was seriously mentally ill in the years leading up to the killings, obsessed with the Illuminati and human sacrifice, and had refused treatment. After the killings, still in the throes of florid delusions, the Brockton woman told police she did it “for the ritual” and “for the baby.” She mentioned voodoo and not intending to hurt the boys. She said she wrapped her dead children up in a heating pad, saying “I tried to fix them up, make sure they were still living.”

Even so, Plymouth County DA Timothy Cruz rejected the claim Sanders was mentally ill and charged her with first-degree murder, arguing the killings were long-planned and cold-blooded. In December, a jury rejected an expert witness’s testimony that Sanders was psychotic when she killed her children, and found her guilty. She was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Elliot Levine, her attorney, tried to convince the jury that Sanders would, if found not guilty by reason of insanity, likely still be confined for the rest of her life. Instead she was sent into a system where help is almost certainly inadequate.


Levine says that would never have happened if the DA had charged her with second-degree murder and the case been decided by a judge instead of by a jury. Jurors are typically unconvinced by insanity pleas, especially in gruesome crimes.

A spokesperson for Cruz e-mailed to say he charged Sanders with first-degree murder because “We strive to hold accountable those who victimize others.”

Will Cruz take a similarly hard line with Lindsay Clancy? There will and should be extra scrutiny here, given that Sanders is poor and Black, and Clancy is white and from an affluent community.

But the solution here isn’t to subject both women to the same cruelty. It is to treat all mentally ill defendants with the same compassion.

People can be kind.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.