It was 3:45 a.m. in the middle of a calm Tennessee June night, and April was eager to see her boyfriend, James. She strapped her two young sons, Justin and Jeffrey (three years and one year), into their car seats and headed to the local cheap motel where James was currently keeping house. She arrived in short order, glanced in the back seat, smiled at her two sleeping boys, exited her vehicle, locked the car doors, and bounded happily inside James’ motel room. Surrounded by a few buddies in his motel room, James was drinking and playing video games. April drank some too and cheered the guys on while they played. Around 5:30 a.m., the friends left and April and James fell asleep on the motel bed. Unfortunately for Justin and Jeffrey, April and James did not awaken until almost 1 p.m. that afternoon. April dashed out to the car to check on her boys, but by then, of course, it was too late. Justin and Jeffrey had died of hypothermia (extreme heat exposure resulting in a lethal overheating of the body) while waiting for their mother. April sped hysterically to the nearest hospital, but the boys were pronounced dead upon arrival.
As one would expect, April was charged with second degree murder, and she awaited her trial. Some months later at her trial, April admitted that she struggled with Bipolar Disorder, which she testified caused her to have sleep problems. Bipolar Disorder is a serious mental illness marked by profound mood swings. Where the average person’s mood swings are like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, the Bipolar’s mood swings are more like the sky-high pendulum ride at the fair. Bipolars are known for their odd behaviors that are the result of these mood swings. For example, sleeplessness, reckless, and impulsively risky behavior are common when the Bipolar is in a manic phase. And depression, fatigue, and suicidal behaviors are common when a Bipolar is in their depressive phase. Even April’s mother testified that when her daughter was on an upswing she would be awake for days at a time but when she was on a downswing she would sleep and not be able to wake up for significant periods of time.
Surprisingly, April took full responsibility. Though she claimed that the Bipolar Disorder was the cause of her fateful decision to leave her boys in the car for so long that day, she also testified under oath that she alone was responsible for her choices. She also said that she would never get over what she had done and that she loved her boys and missed them terribly. She admitted to the jury that she made a terrible, tragic mistake, and she agreed that she needed professional help for her disorder. The jury had sympathy for April. In the end, they found her guilty of the lesser-included-charge of Aggravated Child Abuse, allowing her to escape a murder conviction. Following her trial, April completed a short prison sentence, followed by court-ordered psychiatric care and a lengthy probation. If you had been on that jury, what would you have decided? Was it Bipolar Disorder or abusive parenting…or both?