These messages are in reference to items in last week’s issues of the Picayune Sentinel.
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).