Is it a crime to charge Lindsay Clancy with the crime of killing her three children? Advocates for women who suffer postpartum mood disorder are helping Kevin Reddington, Clancy’s defense lawyer, make that case.
As Melissa Anne DuBois, an ob-gyn nurse and perinatal mental health advocate, told the Globe, “The rhetoric from the prosecution and others in authority distort the medical complexity of this disorder.”
But former prosecutors say Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz is doing his job and would, in fact, be abdicating the responsibilities of his office if he didn’t pursue criminal charges against the Duxbury mother. As Daniel F. Conley, a former Suffolk County district attorney now in private practice, told me: “These three young children were horrifically murdered. For Tim Cruz to say, ‘OK, it’s reported in the news that the defendant is suffering from postpartum depression, I’m not going to charge her with murder’ — that would be malpractice on his part. His responsibility is to the three children and to the public.” Added Scott Harshbarger, a former Middlesex County district attorney and state attorney general: “It’s the duty of the prosecutor to represent the interests of justice and the state. This case needs to be tried in public, not behind closed doors or in the court of public opinion.”
In this tragic and disturbing story of a family destroyed by a mother’s alleged violence against her children, there’s sympathy for Clancy, especially from supporters who have experienced postpartum depression and psychosis. But Harshbarger told me, “I can’t imagine not indicting and proceeding. Imagine the critique if [Cruz] didn’t. Even a progressive DA wouldn’t do that.”
With that, Harshbarger, a liberal Democrat, alludes to the politics lurking in the background. Cruz is a Republican DA in a blue state. He also successfully prosecuted Latarsha Sanders, a Brockton woman, for killing her two sons with a kitchen knife in 2018. Her family said she was psychotic and delusional, but Sanders, who is Black, was convicted on first-degree murder charges and last December was sentenced to life in prison.
At this stage, Cruz can’t look like his office operates under a double standard. And the people of Massachusetts, whom he represents, shouldn’t want him to.
Last week, Clancy, a labor and delivery nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital, was arraigned on two charges of murder, three charges of strangulation, and three charges of assault and battery with a deadly weapon in the deaths of her three children — Cora, 5, Dawson, 3, and 8-month-old Callan. At the arraignment, which the defendant attended from a hospital bed via Zoom, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Sprague said Clancy used exercise bands to strangle the children after first arranging for her husband to pick up takeout food at a restaurant she deliberately chose because it was far enough away from their Duxbury home to give her time to carry out her deadly plan. Afterward, Sprague said, Clancy jumped to the ground from the second floor of their home, which is where her husband found her. Sprague said he then found their children in the basement with the bands still wrapped around their necks.
Sprague told the court that three days after the killings, Clancy used a whiteboard to write, “Do I need an attorney?” That suggests an understanding of what she did, Conley said. But the prosecutor also told the court that shortly before the arraignment, while sitting with a forensic psychologist hired by her defense attorney, Clancy called her husband and told him “she killed the kids because she heard a voice” and had “a moment of psychosis.”
Before the arraignment, Clancy’s lawyer gave interviews in which he said she had been taking 13 different drugs over the past four months and the result was “a horrific overmedication of drugs that caused homicidal ideation, suicidal ideation.” At the arraignment, Reddington told the court, “This is a situation that clearly was a product of mental illness.” Meanwhile, Patrick Clancy, Lindsay Clancy’s husband, has said he has forgiven her and asked others to do the same.
But it’s not the prosecutor’s job to react to this horrific tragedy like Clancy’s husband did or to blindly accept a defense lawyer’s argument. It is the prosecutor’s job to thoroughly investigate the facts and charge the highest level of crime they believe the facts support. At the end of that investigation, said Conley, the prosecution and defense might agree “the lack of criminal responsibility defense was valid.” Until then, each side has a job to do.
That’s what Cruz is doing, former prosecutors say. Larry Hardoon, the chief prosecutor of the controversial Fells Acre sexual abuse case, which dates back to the 1980s, and who now specializes in civil child abuse lawsuits, said: “The prosecution must do everything in its power to determine the true facts of what occurred in Duxbury and the complexities of the serious mental health issues raised.”
Ralph Martin, another former Suffolk County district attorney now in private practice, told me that right now, “the prosecutor is doing their job.” He compared the debate over how to treat a situation involving postpartum depression with that of prosecuting people for drug-related crimes. “Unless we have a viable and alternative way to address these acts, it’s going to fall to the courts,” he said.
To the courts, the matter of Lindsay Clancy has fallen. How the criminal charges play out is unknown. But society’s inability to address mental health issues, not just for Clancy, but everyone, is a crime.
Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.