Does Marilyn Lemak deserve mercy? Readers weigh in
These messages are in reference to items in last week’s issues of the Picayune Sentinel.
On my interview with Marilyn Lemak
Marilyn Lemak may have been a model citizen before and after her appalling crime. But the idea of “clemency” for her makes me queasy. I can’t quite dismiss my shock and revulsion at the idea that a woman who was capable of such a thing — not to just one child but to three, one after the other — should be released. The court did not find her insanity defense convincing. Other women, all around us, are brutally abandoned (or worse), and they don’t kill anyone, let alone their child, let alone three children. It seems obvious that something in her mind just devolved into some alien, twisted, irresistible logic, and her professional knowledge abetted her acting on it. But some things just feel unforgivable – by society, if not by whatever supernatural being she might appeal to.
Marilyn Lemak was a monster and she remains a monster. She was a medical professional and had many resources to address her own problems. The murder of her children was a planned and incredibly cruel abomination. Rehabilitating monsters doesn’t happen in the real world. Keep her away from other humans.
I cannot feel any sympathy for Lemak and I believe executive clemency is not appropriate. Let her raise a challenge to her conviction in a legal appeal, which she should have set in progress when the drug was found to have severe side effects. If successful, she should be retried.
As a father and resident of Naperville who recalls the incident very well, as an attorney, and as someone who knows people who have suffered from the scourge of mental illness or breakdown, your story stirred emotions. I hope she gets to experience freedom from prison after getting the treatment she needed. Her life was all but destroyed and she has paid an unspeakable price and will live with it forever . To me, it was an extreme case of temporary insanity.
Shouldn’t much if not most of the blame fall on those who convinced Lemak there was a heaven where she’d be together with her kids again?
You raised good points. She is clearly a harm to no one but nonetheless took the lives of her three children. Her innocent children. Not buying the Zoloft defense. She was not psychotic, she made decisions.
The meds these doctors are prescribing aren’t being monitored nearly enough, and an awful lot of them push the patients to the point of becoming suicidal. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that they would want to take their loved ones with them. I’m sure the thought in their mind is, they don’t want their kids growing up motherless or fatherless, so taking them along with them to the grave is the obvious solution to the problem.
As an ardent foe of the death penalty, I think we just gotta keep her in prison. If a life sentence doesn’t really mean life, it’s harder to justify abolishing capital punishment.
I believe her depression and bad meds were the driving force in what happened. Hers was not a lucid, intentional act of spite. The Lemaks went to my church. I saw Marilyn interact lovingly with her children. And I had a brief conversation with her about the perfectly normal frustrations that come with separation and pending divorce, but that also included her concern for her husband. But the fact that there were children killed pushed the hateful and single focused response from the prosecutors and judge (who evidently are still pushing it), some of the media, and the public. She was tried and convicted in their eyes even before the trial began. While there was some coverage of the drugs, and by who and how they were prescribed, that was drowned out by the preconceived – and so much easier to understand – notion that it simply had to be out of spite.
Lemak isn’t the only one to blame mass killings on SSRIs. See “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson have linked mass shootings to antidepressants.” The article says “Antidepressants have been linked to higher rates of suicide risk among young people, according to the FDA, but experts say there is no evidence to suggest they increase violence or homicidal urges towards others. … Carlson and Greene’s theories fail to note that many mass shooters had no history of taking psychiatric medication. A 2021 investigation by Voice of America found that only 23% of mass shooters from 1966 to February 2020 took psychiatric medication.
In a selfish act of rage, Lemak committed murder and attempted suicide. She needs to remain in custody for the rest of her natural life. Period. Her excuses have no weight in any reasonable parole process, as she is just trying to bullshit her way out of accountability. She poses an imminent danger to others and needs to be kept in a secure facility.
Every street in America has people who struggle through bad marriages and raising kids as a single parent. Only the most self-absorbed consider killing their children, and only the purely evil ones actually act on the thoughts.
The U.S. never really has decided what it most wants its criminal sentences to accomplish. Punishment? In that case a finite period of confinement, then release, makes sense, like giving a kid a time-out. Or is it revenge? Lock ’em up and make ’em suffer! Protecting the public from a dangerous person? No evidence that applies here. Rehabilitation into a model citizen? Victim compensation? The justice system rarely even attempts those.
Scientists know that some drugs help the majority of people, but they really don’t understand the mechanism. They don’t know why the drugs don’t work for some people. They don’t know why the drugs have an adverse effect on some people, and they don’t know why they occasionally have severe adverse effects.
Eric’s Summing Up
My sense from these and other letters and comments is that clemency for Marilyn Lemak — releasing her from prison after 23 years — would be highly controversial to unpopular. In Thursday’s issue I will publish a lengthy response to many of these comments by Janet Lagerloef, the writer who befriended Lemak about 10 years ago and is finishing up a book that deals with the issues raised in her case.
Some of my thinking on this is rooted in the numerous columns I wrote about Debra Gindorf of Zion, who in 1985 when she was 20, killed her two children — Christina, age 23 months, and Jason, age 3 months — and tried to take her own life in what came to be understood as a tragic case of postpartum psychosis. She was sentenced to life without parole but released by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2009 in what I considered an act of courage but many in my readership considered a travesty for many of the reasons expressed above.
(I reached out to Gindorf by email this week. She told me she’s doing OK, has a good job and a place to live out of state, but said she doesn’t want to be any more specific than that because of difficulties she’s had escaping her past. Gindorf knew Lemak when they were in prison together and in her email expressed great skepticism about Lemak’s bid for clemency.)
It seems pat to me to conclude that an otherwise normal, law-abiding person who precipitously commits a monstrous act is definitionally a monster. Yet of course we do need strong social sanctions in place to tamp down or deter momentary awful urges; the justice system can’t give license to people to give in to irrational impulses and so must punish criminal acts committed in such a state.
And it seems intellectually lazy not to seek explanations because you confuse explanations in your mind with excuses. One can understand or attempt to understand what Marilyn Lemak did without dismissing it or diminishing the horror of the losses of those children.
Did she murder her three children and try to kill herself in a cold, wrathful, depraved yet logical effort to inflict as much pain as possible upon her estranged husband? Or was her thinking so distorted by the drug she was taking — a drug that can have dramatic side effects but usually doesn’t — that she deluded believed that ending her life and the lives of her children was best for all involved?
The latter proposition deserves careful study and evaluation by experts and reconsideration in the form of a new trial in my view.
To answer Nancy M., punishment has four main purposes: Retribution (revenge), Rehabilitation, Deterrence (of others tempted to commit a similar crime) and Incapacitation (preventing the convicted person from reoffending).
The Chicago Daily Herald re-printed most of Eric’s blog on the front page of their Sunday paper and Chicago’s WGN TV did a segment on tonite’s news.
Here’s the link to the TV broadcast.
Such a shame that this is unavailable for us in the UK to watch.
All that I can say on this matter is that unless you have witnessed the changes, that SSRIs can cause in some people’s behaviours, then there really are no words which can fully describe the depths to which a person can be taken and at what speed. The urge to destroy seems to overtake them completely – and that can apply to self-destruction or to the destruction of another person. It is horrific to witness and almost unbearable for the perpetrator, on his/her return to a more normal form of behaviour, to recall. That recollection will be in part only in our experience.
Akathisia, disinhibition and emotional blunting induced by SSRIs, and prescriber/patient awareness of AKATHISIA and the risk of violence towards self or others are indeed very difficult to conceptualise unless they have been personally observed or experienced.
When sertraline lead to the intense, acute, overwhelming AKATHISIA with its unbearable pain, constant writhing restlessness and crescendo agitation in our treasured young adult daughter, I had never heard this word. At that time I had been studying and/or practising medicine for some 43 years. I believe it is likely that my ignorance of akathisia would have been the norm in my profession at that time. I also believe now that ignorance of such a common, serious and life-threatening adverse drug reaction (ADR) resulted from deliberate concealment of the condition via ghost-written, data manipulated clinical trials and denial by ‘Key Opinion Leaders’ collaborating with the marketing of antidepressants. Promotion of the ‘Chemical Imbalance’ theory of depression and the denial/concealment of ‘antidepressant’ ADRs appears to have the potential to lead to egregious miscarriages of justice in addition to misdiagnosis of ADRs as serious mental illness (SMI). Both are likely to lead to inappropriate incarceration, further inappropriate psychotropic drugging with cascade iatrogenesis and profound physical, societal and emotional injury. Might those in my profession who have contributed to the hiding and denial of akathisia be considered to have contributed to tragic and avoidable outcomes of ‘medication’?
To hear and read of this poor woman being vilified and condemned by those who remain totally ignorant of AKATHISIA is almost intolerable. May justice prevail.
My daughter could have been saved from tragedy if I had been aware of akathisia as a prescriber who was concerned to try to avoid/minimise ADRs. How much more life-destroying tragedy might have been preventable had all prescribers been aware of this phenomenon? How can politicians, the media and the judiciary begin to understand when there appears to have been over three decades of medical denial of Involuntary Intoxication by prescription?
Tim, they can hardly claim not to know about it by now so yes they are culpable. How do they get revalidated if they don’t know? The whole of the ‘teams’ involved who keep quiet are also culpable l. Maybe we should be ‘targeting’ nurses more with information as well as doctors. They actually spend more time than doctors with people who suffer the horrors of side effects. Back in the day though I remember some real cruelty towards one lady who had movement effects – they knew how to to trigger them off to make it worse and more prolonged and thought it hilarious. That level of sadism still exists as we know. But I f they were give the opportunity of better specific training including knowledge of the drugs they dish out and could choose to work with people experiencing severe side effects
with better skills as well as compassion it would make the job more attractive to their benefit and those obliged to receive the what is a disgrace of anything called treatment The training could also weed out more of those unsuitable to be anywhere near vulnerable people. That approach has at last begun to worked in pockets of good care with people suffering dementia – although again the horrors of how the majority are treated are still rife. The drugs are vile but how would any decent person expect the harms would be deliberately covered up by the network you describe who are/were trusted to look after them. Especially your generation Tim before the age of the internet. If it had been available I wonder if the lies could have been bedded in as much as they are by now?
Thank you Susanne.
“Handing over a loved one to doctors and nurses is an act of trust. It represents a major crisis when you begin to doubt that the treatment they are given is in the best interest”.
(Bishop James Jones: Inquiry into multiple drug induced deaths in a UK Hospital).
Yes, the abysmal ‘nursing’ knowledge, skills and attitudes in those whom we were so ill-advised to trust were beyond comprehension. We were lead to believe that our loved one would be going to a ‘Hospital’ where priority would be afforded to rehydration and restoration of fluid and electrolyte balance. It was immediately clear that they were completely incapable of this basic, urgent medical management. I doubted they had ever seen a giving set for intravenous fluids, or indeed had any adequate knowledge of the basic management of acute medical emergencies. Our loved one was too akathesic to eat or drink but they recorded this as ‘Manipulative Behaviour’.
The initial ‘treatment’ for the misdiagnosed akathisia was olanzapine and fluoxetine. Petite, athletic and very skim, there was no dose adjustment for body weight. I was terrified to observe that the neurological toxicity had induced the intense windscreen-wiper eye flicking of nystagmus. Had a brain tumour been missed, or was this the beginning of iatrogenic brain injury? The ‘nurses’ didn’t know and didn’t show any concern. I told them that this suggested there was a risk of tardive dyskinesia. “It doesn’t happen on olanzapine” they insisted, demonstrating their ignorance of ADRs.
There was mockery, deliberate cruelty, coercion and a palpable absence of empathy. Involuntary Intoxication was an opportunity for them to falsify the ‘case notes’ misinterpreting neurological injury as behavioural abnormalities which served to justify their diagnostic failure and therapeutic incompetence.
Yes, these cruel and vindictive staff were in need of ‘targeting with our information’. They also needed to have some basic O-level nursing skills.
I can now appreciate that I have occasionally met psychiatric nurses who did afford care and compassion. These were ex-nurses who I understand to have given up working in ‘Mental Health’. I have read that there is a Critical M.H. Nursing movement in the UK apparently. They must be very brave if this is correct.
The impression that I am left with is that the ‘mental health’ nurse-training (of those whom we believed were going to help our loved one) served primarily to regurgitate drug marketing propaganda with absolute certitude.
They would not listen to me when I pointed out the indisputable physical signs of cranial nerve injury and /or brain injury.
Yes Susanne. They are the ones who spend most time with their pacing, agitated, ceaselessly moving patients. They ignored akathisia and considered it to be a feature of mental illness, not an adverse drug reaction.
There are none so blind as those who will not see. There are none so deaf as those who will not listen.
This doesn’t mean that we should not try to target them with more valid and scientific information.
Tim thank you. I had a look and found there is a network set up by the sort of people who should in a far off world be running the nursing colleges/training courses They are indeed extremely critical of the profession and have published this and some other interesting stuff.
Critical Mental Health Nursing: Observations From The Inside
Pete Bull Jonathan Gadsby Stephen Williams
The argument that propels this emphatic book is that mental health nursing cannot continue to pin the blame for its own actions and failings on the psychiatric hierarchy. As the editors point out, mental health nursing is a degree-level qualification; it has achieved its ambition to be ‘a profession in its own right’. But it has failed to find its own voice and identity or to challenge the coercive, invalidating and traumatising culture and practices within the mainstream mental health services.
It has failed above all to subject itself to its own critical scrutiny.
This is what these chapters set out to do, starting powerfully with an apology from the editors to all the many millions of users of mental health services who have been subjected to the profession’s failure to care: ‘We cannot think of a new knowledge, approach, skill or kind of empowerment that nurses have themselves forged as a “profession in our own right”, of which our service users are identifiably beneficiaries,’ they write.
The editors and several of the 13 contributors to this book are members of the Critical Mental Health Nurses Network, formally launched in 2015. The aim of the network is to provide an identity and forum for shared experience for mental health nurses who are able to admit that the world is far more complex than many would prefer to believe, that people’s messy lives cannot be tidied away into discrete diagnostic categories, and who are, above all, ‘critical’.
Chapters highlight the dilemmas and assumptions encountered daily in mental health nursing practice and ask readers to reflect and challenge them to take collective and individual action to bring about change. Topics include:
• recovery and recovery colleges, written from very different viewpoints
• rooting out the violence culturally embedded within mental health nursing
• nurse education and how to translate theory into ethical best practice
• negotiating the complex pressures of delivering frontline crisis care
• playing the power game within the mental health system
• how the Mental Health Act blocks creative nursing practice
• embedding critical thinking and reflective practice within the profession
• forming political alliances with social movement activists
• the role of social contexts and cultures in shaping mental health and relationships
• mental health nursing as a therapy.
A continuing theme is the ubiquity of coercion both embedded within and perpetrated by the mental health nursing profession. In the editors’ words, it is time for the profession to ‘open new forums… share our honest experiences and fears and, above all, look to all of the places in which imagination has been reignited… [to find] new possibilities that make coercive options fall away.
and a snippett
Committed mental health nurses asking questions about mental health nursing
Brief response to queries about the new All Wales Psychiatric Genomics Service
Thank you to all those who have been in touch about this. It would be wrong to say that the Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network takes the following view, because a network of critical thinkers does not aspire to have just one view on a subject. However, our network (which is not something with a membership, but includes any nurse that wants to be involved and think critically about mental health nursing) is very welcome to add comments discussing the following post on the subject of this new/old development (which can be read about here: https://medicalgenomicswales.co.uk/index.php/health-professional-information/all-wales-psychiatric-genomics-service).
Very few people are qualified to fully interpret the findings or critique the design of the new research members of that group have published in Nature and I am not one of those people. But then it has been my repeated experience that very few of the people who believe that they can do those things know very much about mental health and mental health services and I always wonder where they are after the initial excitement has been seen in a more sober light. Not only that, the people who present such research almost never have anything to contribute to discussion about the history and political implications of their claims. As such, they do not seem to be able to consider how their research will, or could potentially, be used within a complex society and complex mental health system. A less sympathetic view might even wonder if they really understand the breadth of meaning and context of their own work. I’ll explain:…….There’s a good article by someone ‘Mark’
I” suspend my optimism as they are experiencing the same undermining power games which ‘user groups’ fight against which means they just dont get into positions of any real influence. Still fighting against the system but nowhere near being equals with medics and researchers. Is there still a problem with snobbery about nursing…Often the best of them are fooled into joining the establishment After 10 years the same old is being stated. I do respect what they are doing though and still going after 10 years is a triumph.
Help or Hindrance?
I don’t buy this Eric Zorn reporting and have picked out some salient points. He is using headstrong language and despite some tendency to support Marilyn, he has actually caused more rancour than perhaps he even intended. The “Why?” when Marilyn has clearly described Zoloft puts him in a league that is positively dangerous and I certainly would not want him anywhere near me, if I was Marilyn and going for clemency.
“We’d say she’d lost her mind, gone crazy, come unhinged. We’d say she had snapped, fallen out of her tree and gone around the bend. … Deranged, loony, bonkers, cracked, touched. (But) these are not terms of law. You don’t find them in the statutes or hear them in court. They are terms of common sense. She was whacked. Cuckoo. Meshuga. Mad as a March hare.” Zorn
“It seems pat to me to conclude that an otherwise normal, law-abiding person who precipitously commits a monstrous act is definitionally a monster.” Zorn
Zorn co-wrote the 1990 book “Murder of Innocence,” about the schoolhouse shooting in suburban Winnetka, Illinois. The book served as the basis for a 1993 made-for-TV movie with the same name.
The shocking story of innocence destroyed by a rich young babysitter inexplicably gone mad made headlines all across the nation
“OK, she was out of her head. But it’s almost impossible to believe she didn’t know the act was terribly wrong.” Zorn
“She knew what she was doing. She had a full appreciation of her conduct. It was a combination of depression, revenge and guilt over what she had done to her marriage even before she had killed her children.” Judge
“How and why she got to that state and how much if any mercy she deserves 23 years later is less obvious, and a question that I know from long experience will prompt harsh and angry reactions along with probing philosophical queries and even expressions of sympathy. “ Zorn
“At the time of my offense, I was under the influence of 200 milligrams of an antidepressant drug called Zoloft. At that time there was nothing on the label of that medication to warn … that this drug could trigger mania or psychosis and / or that it could precipitate irrational, out of character violence toward myself or my children. (Since 2005) a specific patient medication guide about these risks must accompany each prescription of this drug. …
A separate Black Box warning is now distributed to the prescribing physicians alerting them to the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and advising them to closely monitor all antidepressant treated patients in clinical worsening and for emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.” Marilyn Lemark
…..and then a post by Janet Lagerloef offering some context.
With you all the way, Janet…
We see this pitiful, frail, bespectacled woman sitting silently at the defense table in jail fatigues (a bit of stagecraft by the defense), her lethal, veiny hands holding a cup of water and her entire body shaking slightly but constantly to the rhythm of her ever-swinging crossed leg, and we know only that she is neither innocent nor wholly evil.
I doubt he ran his article past Marylin Lemak (he might as she allowed him a rare interview have had the basic courtesy of not referring to her only by surname Lemak by the way. This happens commonly when reporters are painting a negative picture of someone ). I agree with you Annie reading this i would think he has done her no favours and possibly harmed the case. It is a nasty betrayal or abuse of the vulnerable position she is in Regarding the terms he thinks are ‘common sense’ they would not be acceptable in most reporting now.
. How close would he have had to be to observe lethal ‘veiny hands’ along with the cup of water and so on – he is writing a ‘story’. There’s no real investigatory work. A middle aged woman does not usually have veiny hands. Neither would someone be likely to swing their leg in such an environment ( i suppose it might be put down to nerves) But nobody seems to have asked whether Marylin had been put back on drugs which can cause these symptoms when I read elsewhere she had been allowed to come off drugs.