Mother’s arrest sparks sanity debate — (San Jose Mercury)

Original article no longer available

San Jose Mercury

March 28, 1998

Note:  Ann Tracy, Ph.D., Executive Director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness, confirmed that this woman was taking Prozac at the time of the murders.

This week Bay Area residents are searching for answers after 25-year-old Megan Hogg was arrested and charged with murdering her three daughters.  Hogg could face the death penalty if convicted…

“This is the most evil act I have ever seen,” said Daly City police Lt. Steve Lowe, “There can be no reason for killing your kids.”

Such crimes have a high shock value, experts say, because of the sacred bond society assumes between mother and child.  For police and prosecutors, breaking this bond is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable…

Megan Hogg’s attorney, George Walker, rejects claims of evil and will build a defense based on Hogg’s history of depression, seizures and use of strong prescription drugs that could have provoked a psychotic episode the night her three children died.

“I cannot believe that God made her evil from the egg,” said Walker, noting that the first time he met Hogg he was struck by how tiny she was. “This was a blip on this otherwise normal, non-criminal life…”[Mothers who kill older children] frequently attempt to kill themselves, as Hogg did, as well as their children, and some succeed.

Experts call this “altruistic filicide,” and say these women are usually mentally ill.  “You have a depressed mother who has become somewhat psychotic,” explained Redwood City-based forensic expert George Wilkinson. “She believes that the world is so awful and unbearable a place for her that it would be unconscionable to allow her children to suffer (in it alone).”

“There is a delusional quality, but it has a rational aspect,” Wilkinson said, “once you get into the delusion.” Experts say these suicidal mothers love their children and feel the children cannot exist without them.”These mothers tend to be well aware of their children as children, that’s part of their pain,” Wilkinson said. “They’re trying to save the children they love.” Wilkinson said he has examined several mothers who fit this category after they killed their children.  “They were emotionally impoverished people,” he added.

Psychology and Spirituality
Pastoral Ministries Program, Santa Clara University
(last taught Winter 2002)

Lecture 8: Evil:  Was she insane or evil?

  1. The Language of Evil: rooted in human experiences.
  2. Example: A man addressing an evangelical who was insistently asking “Do you believe in the Devil? said: “I don’t need to believe; I’ve seen him.” Sharing in twos:
    1. Where have you seen/experienced what you would describe as “evil”?
      1. What was it like? What were its qualities?
      2. How did you feel?
      3. How do you understand the experience now?
  3. The language of evil
    1. How do we use the language of evil? What purposes are served?
      1. social control
      2. self-defense- distancing from the uncanny, unusual or frightening
      3. ego protection
    2. How do we see the language of “evil” being used tdoay?
      1. discourse following September 11
      2. President Bush’s “Axis of Evil”
      3. See Taliban cartoon
      4. Satire: “The Axis of Just as Evil” (satirewire.com)
    3. Definitions (Diamond, 1996):
      1. Sanford and Comstock– sociological study Sanctions for Evil: “In using the word evil we mean not that an act or pattern of life is necessarily a sin or a crime according to some law, but rather that it leads to damage or pain suffered by people, to social destructiveness of a degree so serious as to call for use of an ancient, heavily freighted term.” (56)
      2. “evil can be considered that tendency which- whether in oneself or others- would inhibit personal growth and expansion, destroy or limit innate potentialities, curtail freedom, fragment or distintigrate the personality, and diminish the quality of personal relationships. (56, italics in original)
      3. Existential evil– natural disasters; accidents
      4. Human evil: “those attitudes and behaviors that promote excessive interpersonal aggression, cruelty, hostility, disregard for the integrity of others, self-destructiveness, psychopathology, and human misery in general.” (57: italics in original)
      5. Can be single person (individual evil) or a group, country or culture (collective evil)