ABC News Consultant Michael Welner, M.D., one of America's top forensic psychiatrists, looks at the evidence raised in the trial of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter Caylee. As the defense presents its case, what has been truly revealing of the person we think we see?
What evidence presented so far is most significant to you, based upon your experience with mothers who kill children, and why?
The history of Casey Anthony's inactions and actions is even more significant than her words. Stunning enough that this fully socialized woman from a competently-policed area would not report her child missing for a full month. Compounding the evidence of her detachment are her activities during that time. She was lounging aimlessly with her boyfriend, entering a hot body contest, carousing, and engaged in other remarkably unremarkable activities. That Casey was so unaffected, and relegated Caylee's absence to such a low priority, speaks to how detached she was from her missing child.
Mothers kill children for a number of reasons. Some are very depressed and kill their children amidst their own suicide attempts, thinking they are looking after the children's best interest. Some are psychotic and have irrational motivations. Others may or may not have a mental illness or drug dependency, and kill because they are overwhelmed and are angry with the burden of their incompetent child care. Some may kill the children in part to spite the children's father, who leaves them feeling powerless. Others see their children as an inconvenience; because of perceived family pressures, they would not place them up for adoption but would make them disappear. Each of the above motivations is very different. In my professional experience, all are premeditated at least in fantasy.
The common pathway for mothers who kill is an anger and resentment that increasingly alienates them from their children. They may have been very warm and loving at an earlier point, but by the time the homicide takes place in the above scenarios, the mother is conspicuously more alienated. The detached, indifferent mother in the wake of a child's disappearance arrived at a point of alienation well before such a killing took place -- or it never would have happened.
The spontaneity of child killing seen in conflicts that get out of hand reflects in the level of guilt and undoing immediately after the crime. This is not to be confused with mothers who become more emotional when they reflect on the predicament that they face justice for exercising their control over a helpless child's life. That may explain the rising emotions in Casey well after her arrest. Or it may be just another shallow display of drama.
Is Casey Anthony a psychopath?
The brazenness and frequency of Casey Anthony's lying brings psychopathy to mind as a diagnostic possibility. But narcissistic and borderline personalities lie, as do as some histrionics. So, too, do politicians, who only sometimes are personality disordered. Key to assessing the demonstrated liar is gaining an understanding of whether this behavior limits itself to responding to trouble with the law, or whether lying is a lifestyle choice.