Gypsy Blancharde Is In Jail For Killing Her Mother

Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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231 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    What Gypsy and other victims of different types of abuse go through is absolutely horrible. I also agree that society and government often turns a very big blind eye to such abuse and allows it to go on for too long. The law is a blunt instrument though and just because somebody is an evil a-hole doesn’t mean that the law will overlook their killing as a murder even if done by a very justified victim. The idea of equal protection of the law is that even evil a-holes deserve its protection.Report

    • Sam in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Maybe Gypsy should have been a police officer then.Report

      • pillsy in reply to Sam says:

        And if she were, she’d be benefitting from the presumption that whoever she killed was probably an evil a-hole who needed killing. I think we want less of that in our society, not more.

        As it stands, 10 years really does seem to be a pretty short sentence for premeditated murder.Report

        • Sam in reply to pillsy says:

          “premeditated murder” does not properly contextualize what was going on here though. Our justice system fails if that is all the farther it goes in considering what exactly occurred.Report

  2. Murali says:


    The thing you say about american physicians in general being too ready to intervene (as in prescribe a medical treatment) sounds like something I’ve long suspected to be the case. It is also, I think one of the reasons medical treatment is so expensive there.

    This sort of case is precisely the case that seems to take advantage of the heuristics currently operative in society. What I want to know is what changes you think are necessary to reduce or avoid such situations in the future?Report

    • Sam in reply to Murali says:

      Electronic record keeping would be one obvious place to start although there are of course privacy concerns with doing that sort of thing, and especially transferring them between institutions. But Dee Dee was able to prey on what new doctors did not know and use that to her advantage.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Sam says:

        There is very very little that we will not do to provide patients with the best care possible. No medical records laws discourage doctors from talking to other doctors. In fact, Obamacare/Medicare/Medicaid provides money so that we can link doctors to more doctors.

        This will help fix substance abuse (it already works pretty well around here), and it will help fix issues like the OP as well.Report

  3. Damon says:

    That whole story is a mess of *ucked up. Jeebus! I’d have preferred her to be given some more slack than 10 years given what she endured.

    As to everyone else…..I don’t really think the system is set up to catch stuff like this, and I could easily see how some aggressive CPS caseworker could “spot” a case like this and go full ‘crat on similar appearing situation and be very very wrong, so I’m not sure what the “fixes” are..Report

    • Sam in reply to Damon says:

      If I had to guess, the number of kids taken from parents wrongly is dwarfed by the number of kids left with parents wrongly. That though is what our society prefers. Better to let adults abuse children than risk the possibility of wronging an adult anywhere.Report

      • Damon in reply to Sam says:

        I have mixed feelings about this, especially given some well published screw ups by CPS, their attitude and the apparent lack of safeguards to control their behavior. I mean, really, when CPS is called and gets involved when a kid is walking home along or playing in a nearby park, I think their focus is a bit mis aligned.Report

        • Morat20 in reply to Damon says:

          Gotta keep in mind — we hear about the screw-ups and we remember them.

          We don’t remember all the times they were right, because we don’t hear about them and if we do — we dismiss them as “working as intended”.

          It’s the same bias Vegas likes to exploit. You remember the rare big wins, but not the steady stream of small losses. Which is why Vegas is happy to have you back, time and time again.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Damon says:

          You aren’t nearly as aware of how many parents murder their children to ensure their silence after they sell their bodies for money as you might could be.

          CPS deals with cultures of silence, where people don’t have the courage or the support to speak out.Report

      • Blomster in reply to Sam says:

        Unfortunately, it’s very very difficult to find safe foster homes that actually provide a healthier situation than wherever the children are being removed from. The statistics on foster child abuse is absolutely horrendous. Often parents’ own struggles with drugs/mental health/money etc do make for an abusive environment, but they still do love their children and they do try their very flawed best. It’s not that clear that removing the children into the care of strangers is necessarily good for the children.

        So it’s not like anyone would rather let adults abuse children than risk the possibility of wrongdoing and adult; the problem is that you may very well be removing the children from one bad environment to a worse one.Report

    • Joe Sal in reply to Damon says:

      I’m not sure about the fixes. I do know in the regions I grew up, children were given much more adultish agency when they were young. The terms young men/women started at age 12, and by 14 were basically short adults. That society stills sees 20 year olds as children is well, I don’t know what to make of it. Is it paternal/maternal or something?Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Joe Sal says:

        When you were 12, were you expected to commit aggravated assault on adults, if they offered to harm you? (yes, I know, New Jersey).Report

        • Joe Sal in reply to Kimmi says:

          I had an interesting 12th year. The stuff trying to punch my clock back then was much more dangerous than people.

          How’d you manage?Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Joe Sal says:

            … more dangerous than people?
            What’s that, then?
            No, it wasn’t me with the brick bashing a perverted adult’s head. Generation older than me, and yes, New Jersey (home of the Free Candy Van, yes there are pictures on the internet).Report

            • Joe Sal in reply to Kimmi says:

              By 12 I had alread spent over 1000 hours driving a tractor without a cab. No seatbelt, feet could barely touch the floor pan. Bumpy fields, the only means of holding on was to grip the steering wheel.

              If ya happen to get bucked of forward in front of the wheel fender the drive tires would run you over before the plow drug you along a dozen yards or so, and really plows weren’t that dangerous. If you fell flat you have a pretty good chance of surviving both the wheel and the plow. If you got bucked off backwards you only had to contend with the plow, easy peasy.

              Offset discs were the risky thing.

              If that wasn’t the funnest thing ever, there was filler time in between which we had the task of ‘working cattle’, or take cattle to market. Normally that isn’t a big deal either. Except we had a coyote problem, and that doesn’t sound like a big deal, except one of my fathers solutions to combat the coyotes preying on calves, was to purchase some of the most combative cattle seen at any auction.(not to mention those were typically price reduced for being half crazy)

              This did in fact stem the coyote problem, we didn’t lose calves anymore. What I discovered very directly is that cattle that aren’t afraid to fight coyotes also aren’t afraid to fight the people trying to direct them into a corral. So by age 12 I had been runt the hell over several times by cattle weighing over 1200 pounds.

              Back then I would drive a pickup 6 miles to school with a 5 inch folding Buck knife in my pocket. A 30-06 rifle and a shotgun in the gun rack. No body blinked an eye because that was the norm.

              An adult trying to harm you, that’s pretty solvable.Report

  4. pillsy says:

    This article forms an interesting contrast with the one about the false positive meth test. There, you have health care professionals doing the (arguably) wrong thing by believing the tests and ignoring the patients, and here they did the reverse, and ended up allowing something much worse to happen.Report

    • Chris in reply to pillsy says:

      Though they both arise from a fundamental flaw in our health care system: the basic motivating principle, which trumps patient care in almost every case, is ass covering. Doctors didn’t question Gypsy’s mother, as they frequently don’t question patients’ reports not only of symptoms (except about pain, where they automatically assume you’re an addict) but also of diagnoses (including major ones, as this case shows), because the risk they assume in not treating is greater than the one they assume in treating the patient (as this case shows, the risk they assume in the latter case is pretty much zero).Report

      • pillsy in reply to Chris says:

        That’s a lot of it, and Dee Dee Blancharde seems to have done a very good job exploiting that flaw so she could use the health care to torture her daughter. The other thing is that I think there aren’t many systems out there which are that robust to calculating, malicious people intelligently manipulating them, and the main reason that we don’t see more of that is that most people, even malicious ones, suck at calculating, intelligent manipulation.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Chris says:


        Ass Covering seems to be the basic modus oprendai in almost every aspect of the American economy.Report

        • Chris in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          I don’t think that’s entirely true, but it is inherent in the way we do medicine, because the only real consequences to fucking up are legal ones, and therefore quite expensive (expensive enough that even relatively small mistakes can cost someone a job, even a career). Sadly, the way we’ve tended to deal with this politically has been to try to reduce the expense of the legal consequences.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          Imagine how hard you have to work to cover up racism.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    This sort of case is why there is such a thing as executive clemency. The governor can commute the remainder of her sentence or pardon her. Alas, the governor bears a political risk for doing so and Gypsy must wait until the governor’s lame duck period before there is a realistic chance this will happen, lest the governor be seen as “soft on crime.” Would that the body politic behaved otherwise, and justice could arrive more swiftly.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      She… actually straight-up conspired to murder someone. That is, as I understand it, the sort of crime that often gets people life without possibility of parole or the death penalty. Giving her ten years seems to already reflect the extenuating circumstances.Report

      • Sam in reply to pillsy says:

        What was she supposed to do, given her circumstances? What was a REASONABLE expectation for her?Report

        • pillsy in reply to Sam says:

          I don’t know what she was supposed to do. But I also don’t like the idea that we need to have an effective alternative course of action that would resolve a pluperfectly fucked situation in a reasonable way in order to send people to prison for conspiring to murder someone.Report

          • Sam Wilkinson in reply to pillsy says:

            I’m not sure I follow. It seems as though the justice system might be able to look at an individual in Gypsy’s situation and say, “Oh my f-ing god, literally everybody tasked with this person’s well-being failed her, it is no surprise that she ended up where she did, we’re not sentencing her to another ten years of confinement. How can we do better next time?”Report

            • pillsy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

              Large numbers of people who commit horrible crimes have been failed by literally everybody tasked with their well-being. I don’t know if it’s actually the rule rather than the exception, but it’s certainly not uncommon by any means.

              Usually they’ve just been failed less flamboyantly, and without a sophisticatedly evil parent in the mix.Report

              • Francis in reply to pillsy says:

                So, you know a few public defenders?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

                The relationship here is critical. If Gypsy had lashed out at a random person, or someone who served as a proxy for Dee Dee, I’d side with you, @pillsy . But she didn’t, she lashed out at her abuser directly. And not just an abuser who was perhaps a bit over the line, but a woman who subjected her to decades of torment for her own edification.

                That’s running right up to self defense.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                My understanding is that killing is only self-defense when there’s an immediate risk of harm that you’re responding to. The idea that you could conspire with someone to kill a third party in self-defense seems to fundamentally contradict this requirement.

                I’m not a fan of creeping expansion’s of what “self-defense” consists of. It’s not a trend that, to call back to @sam-wilkinson ‘s remark elsethread, leads to fewer cops getting away with shooting unarmed kids.Report

              • Damon in reply to pillsy says:


                How would you respond if instead of a child it was a wife who was abused continually. I’m not sure about the law in that particular instance, but there are times when it might be applicable.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Damon says:

                Pretty similarly, I think.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to pillsy says:

                Right, self-defense with the use of deadly force requires some imminent threat of death or serious injury.

                When I studied self-defense theory in school, it was in the aftermath of the Burning Bed movie and various cases involving abused women killing their spouses. I believe a lot of states eased their self-defense laws around that time by removing things like “duty to retreat,” but AFAIK there is always an “imminence” requirement. What that really addresses is that if you are under attack, you cannot be second-guessed about your knowledge of escape routes or first make an attempt to call 911. You cannot be expected to be using higher-order brain functions when the threat is imminent.Report

              • Francis in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Battered Woman Syndrome is a recognized defense in California.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Francis says:

                Interesting. I’m not familiar with that one, but it sounds more like a mental health defense than self-defense. The woman on which the Burning Bed story was based did get acquitted by reason of temporary insanity.Report

              • Mike Schilling in reply to PD Shaw says:

                If only they lived in Florida and Dee Dee had had a can of iced tea.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

                I admit, the conspiracy part is a wrinkle that complicates all of this, but the fact remains that Dee Dee was a monster who tormented her daughter.

                Full disclosure, my MIL is a monster who mentally abused my wife up until her early 30’s, when my wife finally cut all ties to her mom. It was insidious, and once my wife saw it for what it was, and how she was manipulated, the anger she felt was… scary, and my wife is a very calm, sweet person.

                Perhaps a decade is really the best the law could do. The conspiracy bit certainly demands some manner of ‘punishment’, if nothing else. But it doesn’t sit well with me, because I’ve seen how that kind of abuse affects the victims, and part of me wants to say “Dee Dee reaped what she sowed” and let it go.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                But it doesn’t sit well with me, because I’ve seen how that kind of abuse affects the victims, and part of me wants to say “Dee Dee reaped what she sowed” and let it go.

                A lot of people would. I mean, I can’t exactly say I’m crying into my beer over her death. Good riddance.

                My problem is that letting it go at that is that it’s so easy to do, but it can go so wrong, so fast, and in so many ways. Big chunks of our legal system are set up to try to avoid the perils of that kind of thinking–and they already function very imperfectly.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:


                I hear ya. It’s probably the best possible outcome from a selection of crap outcomes.

                Don’t mean I have to like it.Report

            • Joe Sal in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

              The social construct of written law is for the most part incompatible with subjective justice.Report

            • It seems as though the justice system might be able to look at an individual in Gypsy’s situation and say, “Oh my f-ing god, literally everybody tasked with this person’s well-being failed her, it is no surprise that she ended up where she did, we’re not sentencing her to another ten years of confinement. How can we do better next time?”

              The problem seems to be is that that’s too much to ask of a “system” qua system. The prosecutor, using his or her discretion, probably could have or should have been able to choose leniency by not prosecuting. And as Burt has suggested, the governor can use his or her discretion to pardon or commute. But that discretion is a-systemic or at least extra-systemic. The practical realities of the system put pressure on the prosecutor and the governor not to act according to (what I believe is) the right thing to do. And while I don’t know, I infer from your OP that once convicted, 10 years seems to have been the minimum the judge could impose.

              Is this an injustice? Seems so to me. Can the system be tweaked? Probably. Made better? Probably. But it will still be a system.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      There is also prosecutorial discretion. The prosecutor could have decided not to indict considering the circumstances and the interest of justice.Report

      • J_A in reply to LeeEsq says:

        A ruling of self defense perhaps?Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to LeeEsq says:

        From googling the background of the legal case, proprietorial discretion is probably the best answer here to reducing/eliminating her sentence. She was charged with first or second degree murder. Her attorney declined to assert a not guilty by reason of insanity defense, but claimed that he would still present Munchausen by proxy evidence, presumably on the issue of whether she had the requisite intent for first degree murder. I think this would have been contested, and its not clear what information in the OP would have gotten to a jury.

        The first degree murder charge appears strong. She planned the murder in advance online with a boyfriend who came from Wisconsin and killed the mom. The couple then took approx. $4,000 from the mom’s safe and went to the boyfriend’s home in Wisconsin. When she tweeted the “b—- is dead,” she pretty much confessed. The boyfriend’s trial is in November.

        Dee Dee pled guilty to the lesser offense in exchange for the lowest sentence possible. Objectively this makes sense. There is evidence of premeditation, with efforts taken to plan a murder that could have been directed to simply relocating, and the theft of money taints everything. I’m not sure why the prosecutor had to insist on the statutory minimum, but I suspect the pending case against the boyfriend complicates things.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to PD Shaw says:

          “Objectively” is entirely in the eye of the beholder. I note, for example, that you are entirely focused only upon Gypsy’s crime. That she spent 23+ years being terrorized be a woman whose behavior seemed to enjoy the sanction of society writ large does not enter into your (apparently) calculation that Gypsy should have done…well, something else, instead.

          To put that another way, I think one could very easily make an “objective” argument that Gypsy’s behavior was entirely reasonable given her circumstances. My guess is that you would object to this?Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            I am certainly focusing on the legal aspects because that’s what this particular comment thread discusses. “Objectively” referred to the plea agreement. The plea deal made sense.

            Way back when I was in school, I worked and then volunteered at a appellate death penalty defender’s office. I probably read the transcript of every trial of someone on death row in that Southern state, also organized a lot of investigatory information on each convict. From this I know: (1) there is a lot more personal information than ever gets before a jury, both good and bad for the defendant; (2) all of the convicts had disadvantaged childhoods, perhaps none as bad as Dee Dee’s or at least of the same type, but there were certainly convicts sexually abused as children; (3) I can recall an abuse victim going back for a TV that he didn’t think his dead abuser needed any more and how that colored everything for the charges to the prosecutor’s story; and (4) I do not recall any convict taking the stand before the penalty phase, and doubt someone as potentially fragile as Dee Dee would testify about her side of the story.Report

    • Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko says:

      This sort of case is why there is such a thing as executive clemency.

      And jury nullification, for that matter.Report

      • As you may recall, I have a strong aversion to jury nullification and a propensity to see its advocacy in motte-and-Bailey terms. I certainly hope not even the most aggressive jury nullification advocate would suggest that a jury ought be able to nullify the law against homicide- nor invent an affirmative defense thereto.

        But in this case, even were I to concede the legitimacy of jury nullification, it’s too late for that. Gypsy Blancharde has already been convicted; the jury’s duties are complete and the jury itself has been discharged.Report

        • Jury nullification wouldn’t have nullified the law of homicide in this case.* It would have nullified the application of that law in this particular instance.

          Am I motte-and-bailying? I don’t think so. I do come down–but very cautiously and somewhat reluctantly–on the side of supporting jury nullification for criminal cases. But I think I understand where it could lead and that’s a consequence I’d have to own up to.

          *Though apparently as PD Shaw wrote, this was a plea deal and not a jury conviction.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Here though, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is a lame duck. His term expires in January and term limits prevented him from running for re-election. He doesn’t appear to have further political ambitions.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to PD Shaw says:

        He may still prefer to wait until after the election. Wouldn’t want to do damage to his party’s chances in November.Report

        • PD Shaw in reply to Road Scholar says:

          Having looked into it more (see above), probably more important that the boyfriend’s trial is in November. Don’t know what to make of him, if the murder was morally (if not legally) justified, he could be a hero. Or perhaps he is the kind of evil s.o.b., that preys on abuse victims like Dee Dee.Report

          • InMD in reply to PD Shaw says:

            Only knowing the facts as printed in the link I don’t think he is in nearly as sympathetic of a position. The right course of action for him was to alert the authorities and get Gypsy out of there, not commit a murder on her behalf.Report

  6. J_A says:

    There’s too much wrong n this story

    And very little of it (perhaps only the ten year sentence) can or should be changed.

    A world in which Dee Dee is stopped is a world were by rule we disbelieve that parents do have their children’s best interest in mind at all times. A world in which 15 minutes consultations with doctors overrule the observations of parents that are close to their children 24/7. A world in which the police requires positive paper evidence for every utterance you make to them (prove to us your exhusband is an abuser, or we will take you to him).

    The alternative to this tragedy seems to me far more tragic

    “Will someone please think about the children” are the most frightening words of the English language.Report

    • Sam Wilkinson in reply to J_A says:

      I think the most frightening words in the English language are, “Yes, yes, the priests were sexually abusing the children, but just imagine how much worse it would have been if even a single innocent priest anywhere had been accused? Those abused children were the price I’m willing to pay to make sure that adults are protected to the nth degree.”Report

      • J_A in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Yours are truly frightening dudeReport

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to J_A says:

          I don’t know how many horrific abuse scandals can be explained away by, “Well, if we did anything, it would probably be worse…” before we bother to figure out if that is actually true.Report

          • J_A in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            There’s a very important difference between Dee Dee’s individual abuse of Gipsy, and the Church(es)’ institutional coverage of priestly abuse.

            The “Institution”

            It might be that the system failed Gipsy because it’s been geared to protect the individual agents from liability. But no one failed her out of malice. Had anyone really understood the problem, the incentives were there to act. No one did because everyone followed the rules that make sense most of the time, and just didn’t here. A clusterfishing collection of well meaning, failsafe, actions combined to doom Gipsy.

            But the abuse coverage was not about protecting the priest. It was about protecting the institution(s). In the eyes of those that looked to the other side, there were two victims there, the child, and the institution. And that protecting the child would damage the institution. After all, this was an individual child, and an institution that has, for centuries, “helped and served” millions.

            They had to chose what was the greater harm. Most chose to avoid the institutional harm and threw the child under the bus. It’s the same decision that had been made, on different subjects, for centuries. It is better to burn a heretic, or a crazy woman, than to let the people’s faith go stray and doom them to hell.

            Little did they know that the bus would crash and burn against the pile of children. Why that happened this time and not centuries ago is an interesting matter to discuss some other day.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to J_A says:

              The caregiver failed her out of malice, if no one else.
              And I won’t swear to other people failing her out of malice, either. It takes a lot of idiocy to not say “this child doesn’t have that disease, I AM THE DOCTOR, and I know what I’m talking about”Report

            • Maribou in reply to J_A says:

              “Had anyone really understood the problem, the incentives were there to act. ”

              What if you compare “abuse by priests” to “abuse by parents”?
              Given the amount of abuse by parents that still goes on, and how much it gets swept under the rug, the only non-enraging option is to believe that most people don’t understand the problem. Because otherwise you end up where same is, thinking that heaven forbid one innocent parent suffer no matter how many kids a change could save from the abuse.

              (FWIW, one complicating factor is that kids ALSO suffer if their parents suffer, so it’s slightly more complicated. But then you could also argue (and I think the people who looked to the side did) that false accusations of abuse harm a whole parish, adults and kids alike, and especially kids if they think the adult is innocent and said adult seems to be helping said kids. So I think the analogy still holds.)Report

      • Damon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        No, what is frightening is the lack of morality demonstrated by a group of individuals who make preaching a moral code a life’s work.Report

        • J_A in reply to Damon says:


          Here is where you don’t understand their frame of mind. They don’t preach a moral code for a living. They work to secure the eternal salvation of the souls under their care for a living.

          If you believe people walking away from the Church in disgust will doom them to an eternity of hell, your priorities about what your duty is will be different than it would be if you think that earthly Justice should prevail.

          For the avoidance of doubt. I belong to the second group. I would not stop a single person from walking away from a Church in disgust. Rather, I’d give them a blanket and a hot beverage.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        but just imagine how much worse it would have been if even a single innocent priest anywhere had been accused?

        OK, I get your anger & frustration here, but those adults do have rights, and let’s be honest here, what happens when an adult is wrongly accused of abusing a child? The investigations are never quiet, and adult reputations are often destroyed, either because people put 2 & 2 together even when investigators are being careful, or because the investigators are convinced of the guilt and just flat out tell everyone what is suspected, evidence be damned.

        Even if the accused is clearly exonerated, the media won’t care. Accusations are a spectacle, exonerations are a footnote, at best. Reputations will have to be rebuilt painfully, and thanks to the internet, there will always be that handful of people who will never let it fade from memory.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          Precisely. We are much more willing to collectively agree that a thousand children should be horrifically abused than even one adult be wrongly accused.Report

          • Saul Degraw in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


            Do you doubt at all? Do you ever think that you are in the wrong or that your preferred outcomes and policy decisions might have serious negative externalities?

            No one is saying what happened to Gypsy is right. No one is saying that she deserves to spend the rest of her life in prison or on death row.

            People are noting that this stuff is really hard and quite possibly impossible to get perfect. I don’t want Gypsy to spend life in prison. I would have wanted Dee Dee to spend life in prison. But I can’t endorse Jaybird’s “some people need killin” view because mob justice and vigilante justice are probably more likely to result in horrible miscarriages of justice than actual justice. Are you willing to allow an innocent person to be lynched or rot in prison just to placate your sense of rage or your concept of justice?Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            No, what I’m saying is our incentives regarding all this are FUBAR’d. As it stands, our incentives encourage a binary – either turn a blind eye in favor of the adult, or go all out and destroy the adult. Part of this, I agree, could be strongly mitigated through data sharing and meta analysis. I find it hard to believe that no one, in the 20+ years of Gypsy’s life, didn’t think that perhaps something hinky was going on. Imagine if, when a flag was raised, all the social workers and nurses and doctors notes could be formed into some kind of data collection that could be reviewed for suspect patterns of behavior? Even if all the data was anonymized, a pattern would have been found at some point that would be the basis for a proper investigation. Once the murder was done, that pattern was found fast enough.

            I mean, this is like hunting terrorists. You need good intelligence. If you bomb the wedding to kill the terrorist, you’d better be OK with all the dead kids and other innocents you leave in the wake.Report

            • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Some of it, but it appears Dee Dee took steps to avoid being caught by just that kind of data sharing, by futzing with her address, spelling Gypsy’s name differently on different forms, and the like.

              A lot of this really seems like it was a black swan event of evil. Trying to turn it into a basis for understanding systemic failures really looks to me like using mass shootings as a basis for understanding gun violence.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


              The Blanchards were from Louisiana and the mom used Katrina as an excuse to destroyed medical records. One doctor thought fakery was going on and regretted not doing anything. The article stresses that Munchausen by Proxy is extremely rare and most doctors will spend their entire careers without seeing it. This makes it a very hard form of abuse to pick up on.

              There are lots of things going on here.

              Doctors are generally trained to take “I’m in pain or my child is in pain” seriously and at face value. But we also live in an age and culture when doctors expressing gentle doubt receives a lot of pushback. I’ve seen this involving long-term lyme disease. Medical science says that latent lyme disease is not a thing. But there are lots of people on the net screaming “OMG. Why won’t medical professionals believe that I have latent lyme disease.” See also the controversies over whether Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is real or not. Doctors also get pushback and damned for telling patients that exercise is important because that is fat shamming or what not.Report

            • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              @oscar-gordon I’m struggling to come up with equivalent examples within other contexts. One would think that a parent receiving the news that their daughter does not in fact have the ailment being claimed would be good news; that it was in fact not responded to in that fashion should have been a red flag, even if the failed test was not. And yet, in both cases, medical professionals ignored both in quick succession.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


                Those are the kinds of things that should have been flagged.

                As for @pillsy & @saul-degraw point about records – there is truth to that, but once the flag is raised and the data collection begins that starts to become less effective. We know that abusers will fudge things to obfuscate information sharing, so the collection algorithms can look for that. It will mean that humans will have to review records for identifying info that can’t be fudged as easily (DNA, finger prints, birthmarks, etc.), but if, after Dee Dee’s murder, investigators were able to go back and find all the relevant information, then it’s possible to do it once the flag is raised.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


                Sam Wilkinson:
                @Oscar GordonOne would think that a parent receiving the news that their daughter does not in fact have the ailment being claimed would be good news; that it was in fact not responded to in that fashion should have been a red flag, even if the failed test was not. And yet, in both cases, medical professionals ignored both in quick succession.

                That’s because a negative test is NOT “good news” for a parent.

                Your kid is suffering, maybe even dying. Her symptoms match something really nasty but at least well understood. The tests come back negative… so the medical types have NO CLUE what is wrong with your kid.

                A positive test tells you what is going on, a negative test means more suffering and there may not be a cure or even a treatment because whatever-it-is is that rare.

                Kid in my high school died, slowly, because there weren’t enough people like him to bother researching a treatment.Report

          • InMD in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            This is a pretty gross overstatement. I’ve seen the claim (or at least an allusion to the notion) that there are large numbers of children suffering horrific abuse who the system is unable or unwilling to help. What I don’t see is any evidence to substantiate that.

            This incident is tragic and what a just outcome for all involved would look like escapes me. However, until evidence shows otherwise, it’s a huge outlier. Setting policy is a hard balancing act and there is another side of this issue, where well meaning social services take kids from situations that aren’t ideal and put them into far worse places or act as an auxiliary to law enforcement to punish poor people for not having the same resources to care for their children as the middle class.

            We should try to learn what we can from this situation and make improvements where possible but nothing will ever be perfect, especially when there is some (probably very tiny) number of people out there intentionally abusing the system for their own sick purposes. What we should know, however, after decades of bad laws named after victims, mass incarceration, and aggressive law enforcement tactics is that characterizing these debates in emotional terms pitting good against evil has not created good policy.Report

            • Sam Wilkinson in reply to InMD says:

              @inmd Which part is a gross overstatement?Report

              • InMD in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                That we are more willing to let 1,000 children be horrifically abused than allow a single false accusation. Under the law there are certain constitutional principles that still sometimes restrict our ability to punish as viciously as people demand. However, in terms of public opinion, I think Americans are quite willing to hunt down the abusers of children and punish them, even when the abusers are figments of their imagination. The daycare abuse cases in the 80s and 90s (and ensuing mass hysteria and changes to the law) come to mind.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to InMD says:

                @inmd How many victims did the Catholic Church alone produce? Maybe the tripping point is the word “horrifically” here?Report

              • InMD in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                I think those scandals say a lot more about the internal cultural problems of the Catholic Church, or maybe even the nature of all big organizations than they do about attitudes towards child abuse. Any institution is capable of deciding to cover up the bad actions of its agents to protect its image. This seems more like a lot of unrelated people and organizations being deferential to a child’s parent about medical decisions. The Church intended to hide what happened to its victims. I don’t see any evidence of that here and I think that’s an important difference.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to InMD says:

                @inmd Although we are likely to come down on this different, one need only look at the collective response to the Catholic Church’s ongoing coverups to figure out exactly how seriously child abuse is treated. How many abusive Catholic priests went to jail? How many of their enablers went to jail? How many went to trial? How many were even charged?Report

              • InMD in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                I still don’t think that situation is comparable. Part of the reason there weren’t many prosecutions is that the revelation of the abuse came out so long after the fact that prosecution was impracticable in a lot of places. Quite a few of the perpetrators were already dead but beyond that evidence is lost, memories fade, witnesses become unreachable.

                That doesn’t vindicate the people who commited the acts or their enablers but it’s a practical reality that the longer the crime stays hidden the harder it is to try and render justice in the courts. Either way I don’t think the lack of prosecutions tells the whole story on how people feel about it. Look at the empty pews in the first world, particularly places like Ireland.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to InMD says:

                Look at the rates of homeless among the young. Most of those under 18 have been abused, or left to avoid it. That’s the math.

                And I know someone who had to deal with a false accusation (sadly, with ample “evidence” of abuse — very scary situation).Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to J_A says:

      There are obviously a lot of parents that don’t have their children’s best interest in heart.

      There are also a lot of parents who do have their children’s best interest in heart and the child thinks otherwise because they are going through a rebellious phase of some sort.

      I have known a few women who had much older boyfriends during their high school years. All these women claimed that they were much more mature than their high-school boy counterparts. I’ve also seen guys cultivate this by hitting on high school girls or 18 year old girls and saying how said girl was “mature beyond her years.” Are high school aged women really that much more mature than their boy counterparts? Or do female adolescents fool themselves in different ways than their boy counterparts?

      If I had a 15 year old daughter and found out she was dating a 24 year old guy, would I be horrible for putting a kibosh on it.

      Determining the dividing line is really tricky.

      Gypsy is an extreme and easy case on when a parent is being abusive. There are much harder cases where we do want to air on the side of caution.

      I worry too much about making a rule based on extreme cases.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I once knew a person who had, at the age of eleven, started dating an 18year old. I’d say she was “mature for her years” (even if that probably puts her at the mental/hormonal level of a 13 year old, not more)Report

      • Damon in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        When your daughter invites her boyfriend over to meet you…be sure he walks in on you clearing several guns. You can also make some vague reference to having a place to put the bodies. 🙂Report

    • North in reply to J_A says:

      This. There’s no system that can be designed to screen for such individual malice that would not end up mass producing similar malicious results.Report

      • Joe Sal in reply to North says:

        So what that leads to is social justice outweighs subjective justice because ‘one at a timing it’ is too difficult?

        What’s the inherent value of that system?Report

        • J_A in reply to Joe Sal says:

          I think we are breaking communication here

          What me (and I think @north ) are saying is that the rules you need to catch Dee Dee are such that they would create havoc and misery to countless families that would need to prove every day they are not Dee Dee.

          The Gipsy problem, the charges against her, and the resulting sentence, are a different problem. Rules might be changed to address something like this as self defense.

          What we can’t have, is a system of individualized justice for all. We can’t logistically because we are seven billion (or 300 million, doesn’t matter), and we shouldn’t because it would mean throwing the rules out of the window, because there’s is always a rule or other standing in the way of someone’s individual Justice. And if I don’t know what rules apply to Joe-sal and which ones don’t, then we cannot interact with each other, because we have no common rules to do so.

          We are promised equal rules for all. Not Justice for all.

          That’s a difference that a lot of people missReport

          • Sam Wilkinson in reply to J_A says:

            Would “believing a medical test’s results rather than a child’s mother” really create havoc and misery?

            Would “not operating on a patient not displaying symptoms claimed” really create havoc and misery?

            Etc, etc.Report

            • J_A in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


              It depends.

              There are tons of anecdata about mistaken diagnosis and major issues missed because the doctor has only ten minutes at most with you.

              Most of what my doctor does is hear me describe in layman’s terms, what I feel or not feel. And my description is all but objective. My mother had brain surgery this past spring, based on what I (not her) could describe to the neurosurgeon about my mother’s symptoms and recent changes. It all went well and she is fully recovered, but I could have messed it up, and the neurosurgeon didn’t have much hard data to go about besides my story telling.

              Hundred per cent accurate diagnosis based on tests is only possible in a fairly limited number of illnesses. House is not completely fictional (*), you know.

              And the practice of defensive medicine as a reaction to malpractice suits is real too. When in doubt, a doctor would err on believing the patient (or their guardian (**)). . Should that change? I think so, but that’s a political question open to debate.

              (*) there’s a web page that discusses the medicine of each House episode. I make a point of checking it when I catch a House rerun every now and them ( )
              (**) Gipsy’s abuse started when she was a toddler- I would be surprised if her mother’s treatment of her didn’t also stunt her intellectual and emotional growth to the point where she herself would not be quite able to communicate her issues to a doctor during the ten minutes of face time they had.Report

            • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

              Currently the system mostly operates (with the exception of areas involving opiate painkillers) on a stance of”if you say you or your child are sick we’ll assume you’re sick”. In order to prevent Dee Dee scenarios the entire system would have to start out with a “prove to me you’re not a Dee Dee, and you’re actually sick” attitude. And that change would hurt a lot of people.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to North says:

                No, we’re not even saying that. We’re saying you catch the obvious fucking red flags. People misdiagnose all the time.

                You get a symptoms list from people. You check that against your tests. You run blood tests. You get things wrong, it happens.

                But if the tests say “no fucking way”, then you raise some hell. We encourage this when it’s opiates, because those people tend to harm a lot of other people when they start robbing people on the highway.Report

              • Murali in reply to Kimmi says:

                How much more is this going to cost the public. How many lives is that going to kill or ruin by making medical care that much less accessible/affordable?Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Murali says:

                $500,000. After that you automate the program and let it play.
                $500,000 is cheap, when you’re talking a whole country.
                Is it going to find everything? no, but it can start setting redflags for investigations. And we already pay for investigations, this just gives them concrete evidence.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to North says:

                How do you get to a system where you ask the kid if they are/feel sick and give weight to that?

                Not anything too technical, just a basic, kids opinion weights as 40%, parents weight is 60%. Then evaluate from there. I think blindly going 100% parent may have some problems.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to Joe Sal says:

                It depends on the disease and very very much on the age of the kid. Dealing with kids under the age of 3 is a lot closer to dealing with an intelligent monkey than with someone who can have long, explanatory speeches about what’s wrong.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to North says:

                @north Except that is not what is being discussed. This wasn’t a case of a doctor weighing two competing claims. This was a doctor who dutifully went along with Dee Dee’s story except that – at the precise point in which suspicions should have arisen: the failed tests – the doctor continued going right on along with Dee Dee’s storytelling.

                Here’s a blunt example: would we forgive a mechanic who, after being told that a car had three wheels, and who, after investigating the car and discovering that it in fact had four, still concluded that the person claiming that it only had three wheels must be right?

                Yes, yes, testing is not perfect, but a failed test is surely an enormous red flag, only the apparent response from almost every medical professional involved was to say, “Woah, gotta get this enormous red flag out of here, it is obscuring the treatment that I am providing.”Report

              • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Setting aside the Captain Hindsight elements of the various responses which are reasonable but not really useful.

                You read the article on Maggie Downs being mis-tested as positive for Meth yes? It’s still in the latest linkage box. JR and I’s point is simply that a system that is suspicious enough to catch a deranged malevolent actor like Dee Dee every time is going to make an absolutely shit ton of false positives like Maggie Downs (Without even going into even counting cruder more painful considerations like its cost) and that should be taken into consideration.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to North says:

                @north “Suspicious enough” is incredible given that we know that a negative test for muscular dystrophy was simply ignored, as was the subsequent insistence that the test itself must have been wrong.Report

              • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Yes it’s awful how that woman used a combination of emotional appeals, doctor shuffling and other stratagems to get what she wanted and inflict suffering on her daughter for her own deranged purposes. What’s less obvious is what policy changes would have prevented this determined individual from doing such.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to North says:

                Track the data better. Insist on medical records from other practices. “I need your CCD for this case.” There, that’s not even confrontational.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Test really can have false negatives. Without knowing more about the test involved, it’s hard for me to say that the doctor was making a bad call by ignoring the biopsy result in favor of Dee Dee’s assertions. We know, in retrospect, that Dee Dee Blancharde was a vicious, cunning lunatic, but that sort of vicious, cunning lunacy is really rare.

                It’s also not really similar to the vast majority of child abuse.Report

              • Kimmi in reply to pillsy says:

                The response to a strange test is generally to run more tests. Particularly when the alternative is doing surgery just based on someone’s say-so.

                “We gave you a medicine, and we can’t figure out why it’s not showing up in your bloodstream” leads to “let’s grab another pint of blood”… not “why the fuck aren’t you taking our medicine.”Report

              • pillsy in reply to Kimmi says:

                The response to a strange test is generally to run more tests.

                Yes, and those tests themselves are, themselves, often costly, painful, and even dangerous. Hell, a muscle biopsy itself ain’t nothing.

                I’m all for more investigation to determine if something went wrong, as @pd-shaw suggests. I’m just skeptical of the argument that the doctors obviously did something culpably wrong without that investigation.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                In Michigan, indictments were issued against public administrators who ignored evidence about lead issues in Flint on the grounds that they were in a position of public trust to the residents of Flint.

                By virtue of their fiduciary duties to their patient, these doctors were also in a position of trust, and if they profited from unnecessary treatments, they did worse. I don’t know enough about the particular medical issues, and it looks like information is still being gathered, but the medical “care” this girl received should be the subject of government investigation to determine what, if any, crimes were committed, as well as review by the professional regulators.Report

  7. Saul Degraw says:

    The issue here is that everyone seems to want a perfect system that never fails. CPS and other parties always pick up on proper abuse. Juries and judges always reach the “right” decision in terms of convicting the truly guilty while letting only the theoretically guilty and actually go because of higher justice, etc.

    Here are the issues. Humans are flawed and imperfect creatures and we disagree strongly on what is the right decision. Part of the reason we have a criminal justice system is because we don’t want to encourage vigilante justice. One of the reasons that I have a strong aversion and opposition to stand your ground laws is because I think they encourage ad-hoc vigilantism.

    However, there seems to be something strongly wired into our reptilian ancestor brains that really likes or at least understands vigilante justice. A week or so ago, I saw a news story about a guy who went around beating people that were on the Sex Offender list. Most people were saying right on and how we should hire the assaulter a criminal defense attorney. A few in the crowd were pointing out that the people on the list had already done their time and two wrongs don’t make a right and that the sex offender lists don’t differentiate between people who urinate in public and sexual assault.

    There is also the issue about wrongful conviction.

    So as frustrating as it is and imperfect as it is, I don’t want a system that allows for vigilante justice. We should have mitigating circumstances and clemency and prosecutorial discretion and lenient sentences for situations like this but don’t outright escapes.Report

    • Kimmi in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      I don’t want a system that allows for vigilante justice, either.
      Pity that ain’t the world we live in, isn’t it?
      You’re quite a bit less vehement about vigilante justice when it’s a nationstate doing it, I’ve noticed.Report

  8. Jaybird says:

    Some people need killin’.

    Once upon a time, we would have found a way to sweep this under the rug.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


      There were a lot of problems during those “once upon a time” days. A lot of the “some people need killin'” were actually people that did not need killing. The attitude was more about enforcing racist superiority.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Well, now Gypsy Blancharde is going to be punished.

        Lest we give credence to racism.

        Way to go.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

          If anyone can present a plan for no prosecution of people that need killing that won’t turn into no prosecution when one of Us kills one of Them, please, go ahead.Report

        • Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird says:


          Can you create a system of justice that allows for “some people need killin” that won’t be used to enforce prejudice? Do you realize that many people who were lynched or attempted lynched were in jail waiting for trial for crimes that they might have or might have committed? Leo Frank was taken from a prison before he was lynched and he was in prison for a crime that he almost certainly did not commit. The Scotsboro Boys were almost lynched.

          Do you think that you can create a standard for “some people need killin” that would win approval from all seven billion people.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            If “won’t be used to enforce prejudice” is the bar we have to get over, I suppose I could turn this around by asking you for an example of a system of justice that gets over this particular bar of yours.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Saul Degraw says:

            One of the strongest arguments against the death penalty, in fact, is that even with the most scrupulous and exacting system in place for deciding which people need killing, we still get it wrong in an unacceptably high number of times.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Jaybird says:

      Does anybody have any real good evidence that this case or similar case would have been swept under the rug in the past? The government was even less responsive to victims of abuse in the past than it is now. I really think that a less responsive to abuse victims government would have ignored homicide committed by abuse victims when they finally snapped.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Eh. I don’t know whether it’s possible to provide evidence of something having been swept under the rug.

        I have a handful of anecdotes that one hears at family gatherings of scandals that happened way back when. But those are anecdotes.

        I do know that, waaaaaay back in 1992, my women’s studies course talked about the problems of asymmetry of charging different kinds of spousal murders… for example, when a man kills his wife, it’s usually “by accident” as part of ongoing abuse and gets charged as whatever kind of murder doesn’t have premeditation as part of it. When a woman kills her husband, however, it’s usually planned and so she gets charged with types of murder that have premeditation as part of it.Report

        • Kimmi in reply to Jaybird says:

          I think the issue there is that a woman can be acting in known self-defense — she knows she’s being hurt, and that tomorrow she will be hurt, and the day after that. But it may be when the guy’s asleep — because it takes her that long to gin up the courage to act.

          And we define that as not “murder in the second degree — “heat of the moment” ” but premeditation.

          And we really ought to hear this as “abuser and abusee” as men and women don’t have statistically much difference in who’s on top (slight difference in men using more physical violence, I think).Report

          • Burt Likko in reply to Kimmi says:

            Re: the last paragraph, yes, men typically possess more upper body strength than women, but weapons equalize that very effectively. Not just guns. While some objects more easily become weapons than other, nearly any object can be weaponized when fueled by sufficient amounts of rage.

            Re: the second paragraph, it’s new and unsettling territory to call one person summoning up the courage to kill another while they sleep something other than “premeditated.” That’s almost the very definition of premeditation.

            Which shouldn’t be interpreted as a normative statement by me regarding the proposition that an abusee ought not get an affirmative defense (or, more feasibly, a partial affirmative defense or a mitigation during sentencing) when the motive for the killing is established to be ending abuse. There’s a lot going for that idea, and the OP tells us a story that demonstrates this.Report

            • Kimmi in reply to Burt Likko says:

              Thank you for putting on your lawyer hat and directing the conversation and my thoughts in a better direction.
              Yes, this really does seem premeditated, and we should still call it first degree murder… but we should also have sentencing that can allow this to be less of a crime than the person who commits murder in the second degree because a gay person propositioned him at a bar.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Kimmi says:

            Trigger warning: examples of spousal abuse

            The examples we used in my Women’s Studies Class were “husband throws wife down stairs” and “abused wife buys husband bottle of whiskey, waits for him to pass out drunk, then shoots him in head”.

            For the former, the defense of “I threw her down the stairs dozens of times and she ain’t never died before!” (the teacher used a Southern accent, for some reason) was considered plausible enough for 2nd or 3rd degree murder while the latter was considered 1st degree based on the amount of premeditation (or 2nd degree in jurisdictions where 1st degree is narrow enough to only be applied to people who kill police officers).

            we really ought to hear this as “abuser and abusee” as men and women don’t have statistically much difference in who’s on top

            While true enough, all of the examples given in my Women’s Studies Class had the abuser and abusee with the man in the role of the former and the woman in the role of the latter.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq says:

        The issue of someone who’s been abused over a period of years killing their abuser while not in immediate danger has come up many times in the past, generally in the context of spousal abuse. I don’t think there’s been any consensus on what to do.Report

  9. Slade the Leveller says:

    Even after being confronted with the gravity of their professional failures, these adults did not then conclude that believing Dee Dee had been a catastrophic mistake. They shrugged off the ramifications of their actions, and asked us instead to wonder about the costs of having inverted the situation. In other words, when challenged, they challenge back with “What if Dee Dee had been right?” and then presume that this alternative scenario were somehow at least as plausible as the actual facts of the actual case.

    This is how we end up with the TSA. When did America become so afraid?Report

    • I’ve read several pieces that make a persuasive argument that it could be an outgrowth of our declining birth rate and plunging infant mortality rate.Report

      • InMD in reply to North says:

        @north do you have any links? I’d be interested in reading about that hypothesis.Report

        • North in reply to InMD says:

          It’s not been a single article but a number on them musing over a period of time. I do not, alas, have links. The gist if I can sum it up is:
          -We have far fewer children than we once did
          -Those few children are not prone to simply up and dying in their early years as they once did.
          -This makes those surviving children important (eggs in one basket)
          -It also makes the parents more sensitive. After you bury a couple of children in their early years it can be pretty easy to be more numb to dangers to your living ones and non-life threatening issues seem comparatively small.
          -This makes parents very prone to fearfulness in general and by and large parents are most of us.Report

          • J_A in reply to North says:

            When you read the first person memories of people living in the XVII-XIX century they are pretty frank that their children dying was sad, but not a great disgrace. It was deemed something normal that was expected to happen.

            When birth complications presented themselves, the normal instruction to the doctor/midwife was to try to save the mother.Report

  10. Aaron David says:

    Well, I am not sure what to think Sam. On the one hand I am horrified by the events related by Buzzfeed, though I do have doubts from an article written like that, or as you put it: “One trope in internet writing is to choose to the story’s worst part to highlight” What is true, what is highlighted? Hard to say, as there will be no Duke Lacrosse team to contest this. Hence 10 years, which is how I agree with @pillsy.

    Also, to quote @j_a “What me (and I think @North ) are saying is that the rules you need to catch Dee Dee are such that they would create havoc and misery to countless families that would need to prove every day they are not Dee Dee.” This is very real, very important. And it does suck, big time. But this is presumed innocence, that which makes our entire justice system work. Not as well as it should, but what does. I don’t want to see a black family get caught up in suspicions like this just because because of their skin color.

    Which brings me to why this happened. Poor White Trash. I am willing to bet that is what went threw the head of every single person they dealt with. That is why no one questioned it, no one checked anything. They were just PWT and it looked like the mother loved the daughter. Enough said, to most who work in the system.Report

    • @aaron-david Here are several responses:

      1. What I meant when I discussed highlighting the worst part is not that the author highlighted only the worst part, but rather, that recappers often try to pull out the single worst instance. This is a story that defies that trope. That is why I included so many examples from the article itself. It is simply impossible to zero in on any particular part.

      2. I find the response of you and @j_a and @north offered as precisely the sort of enabling excuse for not doing anything, not simply because you are responding to imaginary policy prescriptions that I did not make, but because your position is essentially that to do ANYTHING presents such a risk to fellow adults that it simply would not be worth the possible cost. Because injustice visited against adults is much more important than injustice visited against kids, or something. Not that your apparent position would ever have the courage to say that explicitly. It is just implicit throughout the objection.

      3. But about those proposals: would it really – REALLY?!? – “create havoc and misery to countless families” to do things like followup when a parent insists that their own diagnosis of their child should trump what actual medical science indicates? To refuse to perform surgeries in scenarios in which actual medical sciences indicates that it is not necessary? To demand more evidence that parental account for alleged problems?

      Dee Dee Blancharde claimed that her daughter’s drooling was so out of control that doctors botoxed her salivary glands to prevent it. You’re telling me that requiring even 24 hours of observation of this alleged drooling would have been enough to “create havoc and misery for countless families” or is that just hyperbole?

      4. Finally: I find it remarkable how many people can shift radically between “create havoc and misery for countless families” and a second position which claims that abuse is rare and not worth the effort to combat. Which is it? Because it cannot be that countless families are going to show signs of abuse and also that it is so rare that do anything is an evil whose subsequent effects are so catastrophic as to make the cost of abused children somehow worth it.Report

      • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        I mean do you want to sit here and have us a five minute hate on dead crazy Dee Dee? Fine, she’s the worst. Done.

        But seriously, the majority of your complaints amount to Captain Hindsight sailing down out of the azure blue sky, gazing sternly back upon the past events and pronouncing what should have been done to prevent them from occurring. I mean that’s cool, hooray for Captain Hindsight, but what does this incident tell us about how our medical system works? I mean hang up the superhero cape and lay it out like a wonk. Are you saying the medical profession should be more suspicious of people claiming to be ill? Yes? No? Are you saying that the police should be more skeptical of women claiming their exes are monsters? Yes? No? I mean we’re trying to read tea leaves here to get to what you’re implying. Evidently you think something must be done but what? Because Captain Hindsight’s Hindsightonyte is that his powers don’t work when you aim his judgmental gaze at the future.

        What’s especially fun about all this is you start out saying you’re not making any policy prescriptions then start making vague policy prescriptions. And best of all they’re generally those most useless of policy prescriptions that amount to saying “Not to stringent, not too credulous, dammit just do it right you fools!”

        And to repeat myself, did you read the article on Maggie Downs? There’s the system being just a bit more suspicious of people. And at risk of being uncharitable I could easily imagine a world where you had never heard of Dee Dee, read that article, were appalled on behalf of Maggie, and wrote the mirror opposite of your current post where Captain Hindsight swept down to save the day from an evil excessively judgmental and critical health care system.Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to North says:

          @north Go back and read the post. What policy suggestions did I make? Because the response I keep getting (from you, from others) is that NOTHING can be done. Even making the slightest change to the current arrangement would absolutely cause countless families to suffer.

          So in responding to that, I do offer at least a FEW suggestions, things like following up on made claims, insisting upon actual evidence, etc, and your response remains a steadfast insistence that do anything which might in anyway affect adults at all whatsoever is simply a no go. If you actually believe that – and frankly, I am sure that you do – the least you can couple with it is, “I recognize that what I am advocating for will absolutely perpetuate horrific abuse by making it almost impossibly difficult to protect children from their abusers, but better that children be abused than risk even a single false-positive.”Report

          • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            The policy change you’re implying, while still doing this odd fan dance of insisting you are not advocating for any change in policy, is that the presumption of honesty that people generally get from our medical system be replaced by a presumption of dishonesty. The core point of those of us who are pushing back on this is that this change would produce suffering for children and adults and potentially more suffering for children and adults than are produced by the current stance of the system. I admire your passion but I disagree with your reasoning. You could at least acknowledge that your preferred outcome has costs.

            Also, you continue to ignore your own advice. You could at least couple your position with an acknowledgement that “I recognize that what I am advocating for will definitely create new horrific experiences for adults and children as they suffer under false suspicions of fraud and face increased scrutiny, delayed care and the accompanying suffering and potential deaths that will cause. Better a dozen innocent patients suffer than a true abuse case slip through.”

            For my part? I acknowledge that the current presumption of honesty makes it easier for abusers to abuse their victims. I do, additionally, assert that a determined and deranged abuser like Dee Dee would likely adapt to obfuscate and circumvent all but the most drastic kinds of medical scrutiny the system could throw up to block her. That is why I disagree, sympathetically, with your sentiments. I think heightened general scrutiny would hurt the innocent and STILL would be defeated by the determined fraudsters.Report

            • Sam Wilkinson in reply to North says:

              @north Are you really objecting to the idea that medical professionals SHOULD be suspicious if people are claiming ailments that: they are not licensed to diagnose, that tests do not indicate, that do not appear to be true under observable conditions? Like, if I go to a doctor and say, “I broke my leg!” and the doctor x-rays me and says, “No you didn’t, you walked in here, your x-ray is clean, your leg isn’t broken.” then what the doctor should do next is treat me for the broken leg anyway?Report

              • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Well hell Sam, if you can wave a magic wand and make the system just the perfect smidge bit less credulous and make deranged people like Dee Dee able to be stymied by that smidgen of lessened credulity then go nuts. We’ll build you a statue.

                Here in the real world, meanwhile, policy is a blunt instrument and deranged people like Dee Dee aren’t so easily dissuaded. I note, again, that you refuse to consider what the cost on the other side of the ledger is for the changes you’re suggesting.Report

              • Sam Wilkinson in reply to North says:

                Addressing the SPECIFIC things that I have proposed, please let me know which one increases the costs on the other side of the ledger for society writ large.Report

              • North in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Reading your charitably, the specific things amount to 50% Captain Hindsight (this should have been caught), and thus utterly useless, and 25% germane good stuff that always should be sought (better record keeping) but wouldn’t stop Dee Dee and 25% terrible ideas (a skeptical stance towards patient claims, significantly more testing) that’d both be circumvented by a determined deranged actor like Dee Dee*
                and would make life more difficult for innocent people seeking care.

                *Albeit requiring more work than she had to put in currently.Report

              • Murali in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Well, depends on what kind of fracture is being claimed here. I’ve gotten fractures once or twice and in one of those situations doctors disagreed about whether the X-ray showed a fracture or not. Hairline fractures can be difficult to detect. And when there is a whole bunch of swelling and the fracture is really small, it can be difficult to distinguish between a slight hairline fracture on the ankle or a really bad sprain. And people with a high pain tolerance can manage to walk around with a fractured ankle or toe.* And ultimately this is orthopaedics. Orthopaedics is basically the least complicated area in medicine. There is a reason why orthopaedic surgeons are rarely highly regarded among physicians. Every other subfield is more complicated. The tests are less certain, there are a lot of judgement calls and intelligent guesses. There can be edge cases. A lot of clinical diagnoses involve relying on the history provided by the patient, and in paediatrics their parents.

                *True story: My mother walked around on a fractured toe for two days before she got an X-ray done. Doctors make the worst patients.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        1. I don’t know if this is a story that defies that trope. Did Duke Lacrosse defy that trope? UVA? What was pushed up, and what was held down? We don’t know, unless you have seen the court transcripts? I haven’t. And there is no Dee Dee at this point to challenge anything. Oh, there is lots to get worked up about, but all of that is reporting after the fact. Not unlike the Menendez brothers we only get a criminal trial to see what was going on. And the state of Missouri felt that she was at least partially guilty. Jury of peers and all that.
        2. OK, you didn’t make any policy precription. To accuse us of “your position is essentially that to do ANYTHING presents such a risk to fellow adults that it simply would not be worth the possible cost. Because injustice visited against adults is much more important than injustice visited against kids, or something.” is the worst reading possible of our positions, which, as I outline my fears of this being used in a negative way against people of color, the poor and possibly any other peoples at risk in our society. Society has to make choices to who to believe, who to distrust every day. Who do we want that to be? What will serve the greatest number of people? How will we do that with finite resources? What is an OK failure rate? Because there will always be a failure rate, no matter who you are, or how you do this.
        3. Did I say it would “create havoc and misery to countless families” to do those things? No. What I am implying is that a set of hard and fast assumptions that defaulted on not trusting would land hardest on people at risk. And while we are at this, how would you do this, operating in the confines of Presumed Innocence that has been brought up in good faith?
        4. I am not sure what that has to do with anything I have said, so ?Report

        • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Aaron David says:

          1. She took a plea-agreement.

          2. So far, everything I have proposed has been dismissed with an insistence that to do anything differently will cause suffering. So perhaps the better question is: what changes would you be willing to consider?

          3. Is it unfair to suggest that you are okay with child abuse? If all changes are off the table, then it certainly seems like it. Not that you’re cheerleading it, of course, but let’s not pretend like the current system is doing any good at all at protecting children, a system which you apparently find preferable to one that changes at all.

          4. Where have “hard and fast” assumptions been proposed? I proposed literally miniscule changes – better medical record keeping, contact between medical institutions, repeating tests when they indicate other than what the parents is claiming, not performing permanent surgeries to fix claimed but not observed symptoms – and would be interested to know which ones of those are so onerous as to make them a no go?

          5. You didn’t make that claim. It is one that exists in this thread.Report

          • Aaron David in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            As for possible changes to the system to prevent this, there is the Scottish idea of Named Person though that is not without its detractors. Couple that with an automatic aspect of the system that requires the state to, at some point in the process, appoint someone to safeguard anyone who is applying for care. But that assumes that the named person will give a shit about the recipient of care more that the other people involved. Also, there would have to be some mechanism to trigger this, something that wouldn’t cause worse outcomes overall.

            Hard and fast is my way of describing policy prescriptions like, for example, 3 strikes laws that are so unthinking and horrific when coupled with the ramping up of minor offenses such as shoplifting to felonies. And I cannot imagine how this would work without such societal reassurances. If you don’t have them, you are right back to were we are now with this case. If you don’t think so, please convince me that this wont be used to separate poor black children from there parent’s in every edge case that comes up. The US has an horrific history of that.

            And still, would all of those policy changes have helped in a case like this? A case where the person responsible for care is either massively and completely evil, or so deluded that she is convinced she is doing the right thing? Human beings are hard wired to believe that a mother loves her children. Overcoming that would take an extraordinary level of distrust.

            The insistence, as you put it, that any changes would cause suffering comes from a life time of watching good intentions go awry. The above mentioned 3 strikes law being a perfect example. I used to live 3-4 blocks from were the murder that precipitated the 3Strikes law happened. No one wants more murders. But do we want the other consequences that came with it? Or the consequences of what has happened in the Drug War? These are the realities of policy changes.Report

          • Dark Matter in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


            Sam Wilkinson: . So far, everything I have proposed has been dismissed with an insistence that to do anything differently will cause suffering. So perhaps the better question is: what changes would you be willing to consider?

            I’m confused. What exactly have you proposed?

            The ideas I’ve come up with seem likely to be far more damaging than the current reality. The math and reality are grim and suggest false positives will dominate to a silly degree, however I’d love a way to put some of these evil nuts in jail or at least get their kids out of harm’s way.

            If you have some actual proposal which sidesteps the math and emotion in this case, please put it on the table for evaluation.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:


              I read your comment as implying that the way things are is, in net cost-benefit terms, as good as they could possibly be. Which is a truly exemplary compliment to all the branches of the US government and the Americans who support it. I could be wrong to read it that way, of course, but that’s how it strikes me.

              Which is fine, of course. Just sorta surprising.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Stillwater says:

                I’m not @dark-matter , but that’s not how I’m reading their comments at all, either. I think that, in terms of cost-effectiveness, the US healthcare system is just shy of being a disaster area, but that trying to address its problems in the context of a memorably awful case of Munchausen’s by Proxy is profoundly misguided. It’s both extremely rare and provokes intense–and, to be clear, entirely justified–moral outrage, which seems to be a perfect storm for driving bad public policy.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to pillsy says:

                Well, one suggestion was to reduce her sentence, given the facts of the case, and I think you (I read this a while ago so I could be wrong) argued that the premeditated aspect of the murder sufficed to justify a ten year sentence.

                “Why not just reduce the sentence for situations like this?” Because doing so will open up lots more murders under color of law.

                Which implies, to me, that what we currently have is the best system possible. Which, again, strikes me as a really high compliment…Report

              • pillsy in reply to Stillwater says:

                “Why not just reduce the sentence for situations like this?”

                On the grounds that ten years is already short for the sort of crime in question.

                Which implies, to me, that what we currently have is the best system possible.

                I’m really not following this argument. Saying, “I think this specific change will not help because of the following bad effects on the system,” isn’t an assertion that we have the best system possible.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to pillsy says:

                On the grounds that ten years is already short for the sort of crime in question.

                The system works!

                I’m really not following this argument. Saying, “I think this specific change will not help because of the following bad effects on the system,” isn’t an assertion that we have the best system possible.

                No, saying that one specific policy change will lead to net-negative results doesn’t entail you think our current policy-set is the best possible. That only results when when someone claims that any and all specific policy changes will lead to net-negative results.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Stillwater says:

                The system works!

                In this specific instance it seems to have worked properly. I don’t see how saying that implies I believe that it works in every instance.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to pillsy says:

                I think we can accurately say that there is often a long distance between an optimal system, and the best (politically) possible system.Report

              • That only results when when someone claims that any and all specific policy changes will lead to net-negative results.

                Which is a claim that the current system is a local maximum, not a global one. It might (in theory) be better still to blow the whole thing up and create something completely different.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Argue locally, optimize globally.Report

              • It might (in theory) be better still to blow the whole thing up and create something completely different.

                Yes, please.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Stillwater says:


                Stillwater: “Why not just reduce the sentence for situations like this?” Because doing so will open up lots more murders under color of law.

                Which implies, to me, that what we currently have is the best system possible. Which, again, strikes me as a really high compliment…

                The number of cases “like this” is roughly zero. That means any changes we make are mostly going to be applied in cases which are NOT “like this”; and the benefits for cases “like this” is going to be roughly zero.

                Read my post at the bottom for how this works mechanically, and let me stress monsters like this are seriously skilled, smart, determined, and they’re going to manifest as concerned parents. Unlike the movies they don’t wear black hats and the people dealing with them will have NEVER seen anything similar to this before. Even the local experts in child abuse (including judges, counselors, etc) will have NEVER seen this before.

                So with all that in mind, what, exactly, do you suggest which is going to make things better without making them worse?

                As far as I can tell, the only way to treat Dee Dee differently is to treat everyone differently. If you have a different solution, please put it on the table.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:


                My upthread comments are limited to exactly what I said: an expression of surprise that folks who are generally harsh critics of gummint are defending current policies as the best possible on the grounds that changing them would lead to even worse outcomes. Like I said, I just find that claim absolutely astounding, and on two levels: first, as expressing that gummintal policy is actually optimal and second, that a description of the case coupled with normal morality clearly indicates aspects of policy which are sub-optimal, but circularly justified as optimal despite all the evidence. I say “circularly” because the entire defense of the current system is that any deviation away from existing policy would in fact lead to worse outcomes when that argument is based entirely on counterfactuals. Even such things as reducing Gypsy’s sentence given the circumstances of the case.Report

              • North in reply to Stillwater says:

                I think a good argument could be made that the system doesn’t need a systematic reduction for rare events like Gypsy’s situation; that’s what executive clemency is for. Leave the general rules be and instead lobby the Governor.Report

              • InMD in reply to North says:

                Well that made my comment completely redundant.Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                I think the issue might be a conflation of two separate problems. The first problem (which I think is the main thrust of the OP) is that Gypsy’s sentence is unjust given the circumstances. Our system does have a mechanism for dealing with that and it’s the power of pardon in the governor’s office. That we’ve developed a cultural/political aversion to that lever is regrettable, but it does exist.

                The second is the systemic issue- i.e. could we design a system that would catch a bad actor of this nature in time to prevent the murder and fallout from it. I think there’s a lot of reason to be pessimistic about that.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to InMD says:

                The second is the systemic issue- i.e. could we design a system that would catch a bad actor of this nature in time to prevent the murder and fallout from it. I think there’s a lot of reason to be pessimistic about that.

                This claim is ambiguous, seems to me. On one reading it implies that constructing a “system” in which all bad actors are prevented from acting badly is unlikely; and on another it implies that the system we currently have does the best job possible at catching bad actors given the downside cost of imposing potential fixes.

                The first is close to a logical truth, given human nature. The second implies that the system we have is the best possible, given human nature. We can’t do any better than what we’ve already got!

                Again, to re-reiterate my amazement about this: I just find it astounding that ideological critics of government are suddenly defending our current “system” as optimal, as the best possible set of policies. That nothing could improve the state of affairs we currently operate in.

                I mean, I can’t convey how gobsmacked I am by these claims. (But that’s just me, I guess.)Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                I actually read the positions as pretty consistent. The concern is that by trying to make the system better we will actually make it worse i.e. more intrusiveness, more false positives, unintended consequences. The cure can be worse than the disease.

                I can’t speak for others but I’m certainly open to investigation and considering whether or not theres something we can do better that doesn’t turn worried parents into criminal suspects. I’d start with wanting to understand how surgical procedures were permitted when, at least according to the article, test results kept coming up negative. I think the reception might be less negative if proponents of change were more specific about what they have in mind.Report

            • To be fair to Sam, elsewhere in this thread, he does suggest some fixes, like better record keeping (which may have enabled doctors to know that the parent in this case had been shopping around for treatments); more followup testing, when the first test proves negative for an ailment.

              I’m with others (and with you) who say that these solutions would likely not have prevented this situation and that any systemic fix that would have prevented this situation would likely have to be so intrusive as to present costs, the acceptability of which is debatable. (The key emphasis here, for me, is “systemic.” Maybe some of the professionals involved suspected something and should have acted on those suspicions. Maybe the prosecutor should have used his or her discretion opted for a more leniency than a 10-year deal. Maybe the governor should commute. But those strike me as “non-systemic” solutions.)Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                The problem there, it seems to me, is that you people haven’t created a fair system large enough to take care of hundreds of millions of people that can’t be gamed by bad actors.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem there, it seems to me, is that you haven’t created a fair system large enough to take care of hundreds of millions of people that can’t be gamed by bad actors.

                This is a pretty good one-sentence summary of modern history.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m not exactly sure what you’re saying Jaybird, but I think I agree.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Something about Gödel.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Can’t argue with an umlaut.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                We’ve got an inconsistent triad here.

                What we want is a system that is capable of doing/being three things:

                1. It equitably delivers fair outcomes
                2. It can handle a huge number of people
                3. It can’t be gamed

                Pick two. *AT MOST*.

                If you want it to not be gameable and handle a huge number of people, it won’t equitably deliver fair outcomes.

                If you want it to equitably deliver fair outcomes and not be gameable, it won’t be able to handle more than a small number of people. (Like, “everybody knows everybody else” small.)

                If you want it to equitably deliver fair outcomes and handle huge numbers of people, it’s going to be gameable… which means that it’s going to be gamed.

                And that’s the *BEST* case scenario. Odds are, you’ll only get one of those and it’ll probably be the one that “can handle millions of people” because that’s the baseline starting point.

                So what do you want to complain about?

                You *MUST* pick one. If you’re lucky and very, very good, that’s the only thing you’ll be complaining about.

                You’re probably not lucky, though.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                As for the triad question, I guess I’d choose no.’s 1 and 2, especially because I think almost anything can be gamed anyway, so no. 3 isn’t, in my opinion, a real option to begin with. (Not that you’re claiming it is.

                Also, my comment about Goedel probably came off as flip. I didn’t mean it to. I just hadn’t heard of him (or I had forgotten who he was) and thought I was being funny. I apologize for that.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                I’m apologize. I hate making that particular faux pas.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Umlauts are hilarious 🙂Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Good comment Jaybird. I agree. Which makes me think, of course, that the “solution” won’t be found by making principles consistent, but rather by informed pragmatics. Which is a squishy mess, to be sure, but at least allows fro the possibility of a solution.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                And adding to that a bit:

                Of course, it’s entirely within any particular principled person’s right to dig in their heels defending/advocating/arguing-apriori-from any one of the listed principles, or even two insofar as they think they can be rendered consistent (since a principled person’s First Principle is consistency of principles…). I mean, they should have at it, I guess, if they choose to do so. It’s still a (moderately) free country after all.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:


                To be fair to Sam, elsewhere in this thread, he does suggest some fixes, like better record keeping (which may have enabled doctors to know that the parent in this case had been shopping around for treatments); more followup testing, when the first test proves negative for an ailment.

                My experience has been that really good tracking and information just results in a more competent monster.Report

              • Yeah, that’s definitely a danger.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

                Well you got two identifiable dangers here: the Stasi on the one hand and complete absence of rule of law on the other. And frankly, I’d choose the threat of the Stasi over chaos since if we go the other way a Stasi like entity is quite likely to emerge outa the wilderness to take unilateral control. It’s happened. It’s happening.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                If the Stasi is a can that can be kicked down the road, shouldn’t we?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t think a US Stasi as an inevitability evolving out of current policies or culture, so I don’t see it as kicking the can down the road. What I can more easily imagine is a revolutionary, anti-establishment, “Rule of Law” candidate (for example) successfully ramping up resentment and disaffection in the populace culminating in our current institutions being replaced with something much less functionally desirable, much more invasive and repressive.

                USStasi won’t arise from mission creep. It’ll more likely arise outa rejectionism and the resulting institutional vacuum.Report

  11. Dark Matter says:

    My family has run into this. It’s important to understand how this works.

    – Every doctor will have run into anxious parents every day.
    – Every doctor will have run into tests that simply fail.
    – This is a rare disorder, likely each doctor will have never run into a lying parent of this nature.
    – Dee Dee will have been a world class liar and actress.
    – Dee Dee will have been knowledgeable about medical matters and able to drop all of the buzz words and discuss all the ‘symptoms’ in a reasonably professional manor.
    – Dee Dee will have been quoting everyone not in the room as supporting her.
    – For every doctor, this will have been their FIRST encounter with Dee Dee.
    – If and when a doctor becomes suspicious, or even knowledgeable about the kid, Dee Dee will have ended the relationship.
    – Any single incident wouldn’t have been enough to strip child custody. Good parents can make bad calls, and even bad parents don’t have their custody stripped, you have to be a monster.
    – Dee Dee was deliberately misspelling her name and moving around so that the authorities couldn’t put together all the information.

    The legal/medical/social system is not set up to deal with this, and perhaps can’t be. When I think of the tools it’d need to do something I end up thinking about forcing people to take mental health exams and taking kids away from ‘concerned’ parents. By the nature of the math those tools would be directed at innocent people FAR more than the guilty.

    This is a rare disorder, divorce is common, people lying is common, concerned parents are common, accusations of Muchausen by proxy are roughly 10x (or more) common than the actual disorder. If the system had better tools to deal with this I’d expect false positives/accusations would be 100x or 1000x as common.

    We don’t know what to do with the mentally ill who are well enough to claim they’re not mentally ill. Dee Dee was both that and smart enough to abuse the system. Dee Dee could/would have hired lawyers to ‘represent her rights’ and the system would be forced to take her seriously.Report

  12. Sam Batson says:

    I have been a long time lurker. Always, before I get to the bottom of the comments someone has gotten there before me, except far more eloquently than I could have (and using better literary allusions than I am capable of).

    In this case there seems to be a dimension missing unless I am misreading the OP or the comments.

    A woman in her twenties suffering outrageous abuse conspired in the murder of the abuser rather than use her demonstrated ability to plan and engage an ally to escape the situation. The murder was excessive to the goal of ending the abuse and certainly punished the mother more severely than the state would have. The state completely ignoring the vigilantism and usurpation of judicial process due to the sympathetic nature of the abused perpetrator seems to invite more cases of the same, with perhaps declining thresholds of justification.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Sam Batson says:

      The state completely ignoring the vigilantism and usurpation of judicial process due to the sympathetic nature of the abused perpetrator seems to invite more cases of the same, with perhaps declining thresholds of justification.

      She got ten years in the big house. Serious question: How many years suffice to constitute an adequate disincentive to murdering your abuser? Are there studies detailing this sorta thing? Eg, 4 years isn’t enough and more than 22 is gratuitously punitive?

      Or is the argument, instead, that the court’s having granted leniency of any kind in this case will lead to the predictable consequence of increasing vigilantism on the grounds that people capable of planning a retributive murder will consider the likely reduced sentence if caught? Like a “Hey, a recent court case indicates that I’ll only get thrown in jail for 10 years and not the 25 I’d otherwise receive, so let’s do this!” sorta thing?Report

      • Sam Batson in reply to Stillwater says:

        Ten years is certainly not nothing, and moreso as the twenties are potentially the very best years to be alive and free.

        It appears that it was the minimum sentence available and therefore not some sort of calibration by the judge. It is possible that the facts of the case did not allow for a plea bargin that would have yielded a shorter sentence.

        Although there is the issue of current mental state at the time only the mother is recorded as making claims for the daughter’s mental retardation or disabilty. The referenced artical seems to say that she was cogent and well spoken.

        A State that explicitly condones (by not prosecuting) premeditated murder invites it. Reference the Philippines today.

        The comment that bizzare cases make bad law is probably the most useful takeaway here. I do feel that the State’s responsibilty to own the dispensation of justice was hidden in this discussion, hence these comments.

        Thank you for your reply.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Sam Batson says:


          I’m certainly not arguing that evidence of premeditated murder be ignored or that charges not be prosecuted in court. i’m more focused on the sentencing aspects of this, and in particular, on the argument that reducing her sentence any further would undermine the deterrence function sentencing plays in our criminal justice system. The argument to this point is that going lighter on her would invite more murders, and it’s THAT claim I think is underargued. In fact, I mentioned upthread that I think it’s question-begging since the only evidence for the claim that deviating from our established sentencing guidelines will increase these types of crimes are counterfactuals which presuppose that our criminal justice system has (surprise of surprises!) hit the optimality jackpot such that any change will result in worse outcomes. But that presupposes something for which their is no evidence: that a minimum sentence of ten years in Folsom for premeditated murder is on balance, just the right amount: not too long, not to short. It’s just right.

          Now, I haven’t expressed any opinions on whether that number IS right or not (personally, I think incarceration as a form of punishment is really hard to justify except in the most extreme cases). I’m just noting that the arguments folks have been offering against Sam amount to an acceptance that “the system” is functioning properly and that deviating from that number (or introducing new checks into the system, etc), in cases like Gypsy’s, would lead to worse outcomes. Which is just a remarkable claim, especially given the ideological home of some of the OP’s most vociferous critics.Report

          • Sam Batson in reply to Stillwater says:

            It is by participating in a discussion like this that I find the weaknesses in both my reasoning and ability to present it. Thanks again for the patience and quality of your reply.

            I would not argue any particular sentence length as being just right and don’t know how anyone would know with any precision. I too struggle with the myriad evils of incarceration, yet don’t see what effective alternatives are available for serious crimes.

            The OP and many of the comments had to my ear the tone of “due to the failure of the medical and child protective services the State should have not prosecuted”. I think the state should have prosecuted it as it did. As others have pointed out the remedy for cases with compelling exceptions is the governor’s powers of clemency.

            I will say that no punishment at all doesn’t seem right either. The killing of the mother was not required for the freedom of the daughter.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Sam Batson says:

              I will say that no punishment at all doesn’t seem right either. The killing of the mother was not required for the freedom of the daughter.

              Not for her economic freedom. And certainly not for her political freedom. But maybe for her psychic freedom. No measure for that!

              The thing that’s disturbed me about some of the comments in this thread is the willingness to dismiss what might be viewed, in isolation, as a legitimate expression of retributive (and deterrence, for that matter) violence is judged by the signal it sends to others who might take advantage of the resulting “relaxed” standard. That type of reasoning seems to me to punish the perpetrator for the potential social effects of their behavior rather than anything intrinsic to them, effects which result from the looseness of the cultural-political-economic system we operate in rather than the totality of her (Gypsy’s) actions. Like Jaybird said, some people need killin. I agree with that, even if I like to think that I’m not the type of person who’d do such a thing. Seems to me that our problem is that “we” can’t devise a “system” where punitive incarceration isn’t the default mechanism to enforce social norms. Hell, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world. So much for freedom.Report

              • Sam Batson in reply to Stillwater says:

                The many harms the our incarceration industry does are undeniable. Ditto the overcharging and plea bargain system, prosecutor ethics, the difficulty of being properly represented.

                If we abolish arrest and incarceration, though, what replaces that? Nothing?

                The problem with individual expressions of retributive justice against people who “need killin'” is they are generally made by people who are subjective in evaluating the situation.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Sam Batson says:

                If we abolish arrest and incarceration, though, what replaces that? Nothing?

                No, not nothing. Restorative justice.

                Adding: the difficult hurdle for us Americans, as a society, is letting go of aggressive, bare, blatant punition as the guiding motive of our criminal justice system.Report

              • Sam Batson in reply to Stillwater says:

                I am disturbed by the widespread imprisonment of people disproportionate to the harm of their offenses due to the various aspects of our justice system. .

                Punition is not the only or necessarily overriding guiding motive for the enablers (us, in general).

                One of my motives is to not be the victim of crime, or suffer from the judgements of people who feel empowered to replace the justice administrated by the state with their own.

                I will spend some more time with your link and see where it leads. If there are other links or comments that you feel are appropriate please provide them.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Sam Batson says:


                Googling “rehabilitative justice” will get you to some of the things I’m referring to, but also – and more importantly – to some other conceptions of justice which people are playing with, both intellectually but in real world practice.

                In my view, the rehabilitative model isn’t a comprehensive theory of justice since there really are bad actors who are beyond redemption or whose crimes are so severe they preclude that option. But in general I think the restorative justice model ought to be preferred over the punitive model we currently employ for the majority of incarcerable offenses.

                The problem is culture. American’s love em some f***ing punition, ya know?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Batson says:

                Hey, Sam. Awesome to have you here, I hope you stick around.

                What are the reasons to use prisons?
                Off the top of my head: punishment, deterrence, sequestration, rehabilitation, and… um… are there others?

                No real way to measure those, but I can probably say that the only one that demonstrably works as advertised is sequestration.

                The others?

                It seems weird that we give the same punishment to people for widely different crimes. Rob a grocery store? Go to prison. Smuggle drugs? Go to prison. Kill your mother who has been abusing you for decades? Go to prison.

                Deterrence is one of those things that isn’t really measurable… I mean, you can’t really measure stuff like people not killed, stores not robbed, and so on.

                Rehabilitation is arguably a complete and total failure as far as prison is concerned.

                So we have to look at the system and say “is it doing what we want to accomplish?”

                There are a handful of reasons to conclude yes or no to that question, but it seems like “no” has more and better reasons behind it.Report

              • Sam Batson in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t know how anyone would look at what we have now and say it’s anything besides broken.

                There seems to be no consensus on the dimensions that it’s broken on and consequently what the solutions are.

                My original comment dealt with a compelling moral case for no prosecution vs. a prosecution. I stand by that.

                Subject to correction with evidence the rehabilitative value of incarceration in the US is south of zero and this should be something we can isolate on since it’s hard to imagine worse outcomes.

                To go back to the original case the point was that there was a deliberate decision to murder and (imo) the state should prosecute murders. The 10 years turning into something less, having the governor intervene, etc. are worth consideration.

                The state should not have declined to prosecute in this case is the clearest I can make my point. It is fairly narrow in the scope of this discussion.

                The entire engagement of how we change what we have is why I come to this site and why I am willing to discuss my views. How do we change to address the valid criticism of the flaws in the system?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Batson says:

                The compelling moral case for prosecution necessarily includes the compelling moral case for what happens after a guilty verdict, does it not?

                Is this just about the message that we, as a society, want to send?

                If so, I’d say that there are more messages being sent here than merely the “murder is illegal, and we won’t put up with that sort of thing”.Report

              • Sam Batson in reply to Jaybird says:

                The prosecute/don’t prosecute decision appears to me to be merely “murder is illegal, and we won’t put up with that sort of thing” only. Murder was not required to obtain the freedom of the daughter. The Prosecutor cannot be responsible for the incompetence/malfeasance of the penitentiary or the reality of imprisonment in the US. That is the responsibility of the state houses, congress, administration (again, us).

                This principle regardless of documented abuses of prosecutorial (spell check says that’s not a word) power. These must be dealt with via legislative and supervisory judicial actions.

                A provision such as executive clemency appears designed to deal with a situation that transcends that characterization. This case may transcend it but that’s not clear to me.

                Having prosecutors not charge in a case like this because the system is hosed (and thereby approve the action) approves the affirmative offense (cringe, IMNAL).

                I started on the narrow issue of whether the case should have been prosecuted. I am grateful that the discussion has given me things to think about regarding the larger issues.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Sam Batson says:

                My problem with the “Murder was not required to obtain the freedom of the daughter” argument is that it relies rather heavily on Gypsy Blanchard having enough faith in the system to use it.

                I don’t know that that’s a reasonable thing, here.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Rehab in prison is failure for one really big reason. We don’t do it. That is the number 1 reason. We have minimal mental health care in prisons, some substance abuse care at most and little to none vocational education. Now if we tried to do all those things rehab in prison might not work great for a lot of reasons, but it would work better than now.

                We also do have different levels of prison for different criminals. Minimum to medium to super max security prisons. More minor criminals do their time in county jails or half way houses.

                Like most things “what to do about prison?” is a complex issue.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                The problem that I have with the “if we did it right, it would work!” argument is the whole issue of how it’s used as an argument against changing things.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well it’s a good thing i’m not making an argument against changing things then. I’m all for putting far less people in jail. For some people in jail they very much need mental health care so i’m all for giving it to them. I’ve had clients who always functioned best after they spent a month in county because they always got their meds. Rehab in prison is no easy task or magic bullet. But for some it can offer a way out of ending up back in jail.

                Back in the 90’s when i was moving out of Jersey i remember a former Repub golden boy NY Gov Pataki ending college and HS classes for prisoners. Why should they be getting free education in prison!!!. Well hooray for freedomReport

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                There are too many people who agree that prisons should exist without agreeing about what prisons should be for.

                And that is what is going to have the argument “if we did it right, it’d work!” result in nothing changing.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Ok, if you want to argue against things i’m saying then that can work for something. All the reasons for prisons you listed can be valid.

                There was a guy who escaped from the city jail while he was being held for some minor crime ( i don’t remember what) He had a long record of violent crime though. Within 24 hours of his escape he had killed a elderly couple of grandparents and was raping their toddler grandchild they had been watching. Umm yeah….we need that guy in a serious prison for a long time and not really for his good. That guy is also a very tiny percentage of people in prison, but there will always be a need for something like that.

                Arguments that don’t reflect the nuance and detail of an issue quickly turn into ideological dueling. They also completely fail to win over people who don’t’ agree since those people can point weak spots in the ideology.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                See, stories like that one don’t strike me as being arguments for the existence of prison.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Then what should happen to the guy in that story? He frickin killed two people and was raping a toddler. And this isn’t some story i’m making up. If you want argue against prison you have to answer the best/hardest objections people who disagree with you will raise. But i’m not even opposed to cutting way back on prison. We would be far better off with far fewer peeps in prison and far more mental health and substance abuse treatment among other things.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                Assuming the details, as you’ve presented them, are accurate, he should be killed.

                No prison required.

                My problem with the death penalty is not “oh, we, as a society, should have evolved beyond killing people” but “I don’t trust the system to correctly ascertain what happened, who did it, and then figure out the correct number of years to keep someone locked up in a room.”

                If we know things as well as it is possible to know them and if we can come to the conclusion that the person in question *DID*, in fact, do the things accused of… I’m not seeing the argument for “we shouldn’t kill this person, we should just lock them in a room until they die of old age” above “we should just kill this person”.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

                “It seems weird that we give the same punishment to people for widely different crimes. ”

                It used to be that if you stole something from the store, your dad or the town cop would take you to the store with the thing you stole, you’d tell the store owner what you did and give the thing back, and then you’d mop the floor or empty the trash for a week or something.

                Except now there aren’t as many dads, and the town cop is a racist murderer, and the store owner is some guy who lives across town and never actually shows up at the store, and the people who run the chain of stores factored your stealing things into their costs of operation and don’t actually care that you stole the thing–and they certainly haven’t got any use for the labor of an untrained non-union non-employee.Report

    • J_A in reply to Sam Batson says:

      I find this a very important point that should be addressed

      A lot would depend on the specific characteristics of Gipsy and her accomplice. How much or how little Gipsy’s mental faculties are impaired is an element to be accounted for. @stillwater ‘s reply ia ove s also a propos. Ten years is not nothing.

      Fringe, extreme, cases make bad law in both directions.Report

      • Sam Batson in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

        Thank you, and thanks to all here.

        My very insightful and well reasoned opinions have taken a horrible beating by proxy because of the more insightful and well reasoned opinions on this site.

        Now I can do it in person.Report

  13. Brandon Berg says:

    I think a lot of leniency is due here on account of the fact that she’d lived pretty much her entire life in her mother’s reality-distorting field. In such circumstances, I don’t think it’s fair for holding her fully responsible for going through the correct channels. Note that the medical system had already failed her pretty badly; why should she trust the legal system?

    On the other hand, the guy should have known better, especially if she didn’t give any proof and he just went through with it on her say-so.

    All of this comes with the caveat that I don’t know all the facts of the case.Report

  14. Sam Wilkinson says:

    @sam-batson I was away from this all weekend but having read your comments, I am struck by your certainty that Gypsy Blancharde not only had other options available to her, but should have known enough to utilize them. If your goal is defending prison as a suitable solution to this very peculiar situation, then this is certainly a convenient structuring of the story. It puts all of the responsibility on Gypsy (which is what the legal system ended up doing) to have done differently without providing a concrete evidence that she should have had any reason to know that doing differently would have mattered this time, as opposed to all of the other times when it did not matter.Report

    • Joe Sal in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      I think before a subjective justice position can be defended we would need to know what Gypsys expectation of what justice should look like. I am unaware if she thinks 10 years is too much, too little, or correct. She very well could take a position that the sentence should be 25 to life and a system that wouldn’t deliver that is not worthy of trust.

      I think Sam Baston is referencing maybe a social objectivity in a slippery slope. That if you let this slide then other things may slide. How that lends itself to any ‘true objectivity’ I am not sure.Report

      • Sam Wilkinson in reply to Joe Sal says:

        The article indicates fairly clearly that she is comfortable with her ten-year stint, and that she believes she is deserving of it. But as this conversation seems to have gotten into other/deeper/different areas, it seems useful to keep her situation in mind. Specifically, there are killings which are excused with a wave of the hand and with the justice system’s support.

        All a police officer has to say, for example, is that he thought that the victim posed some sort of threat (literally, any sort of threat) and almost every killing is excused or commended or both.

        Gypsy faced a non-stop threat for 23 years – one that operated with the system’s sanctioned support – and the justice system concluded that this threat was not serious enough to warrant anything LESS than 10 years in prison. So let’s not pretend like we don’t have a justice system capable of contextual malleability. That flexibility though is only available to some.Report

        • Joe Sal in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          She sure appeared to be accepting of it, but that is little indication that she would see it as justice. She may very well carry the injustice of this after jail and have a reduced value of the justice system. So ‘Not Justice for all.’ continues in the violations of subjective justice which isn’t a big deal if your talking a hundred thousand out of several hundred million. The bigger problem arises when violations of subjective justice reach into the tens of millions. How many people are released from prison or released into parole each year?

          The killings by operators within social constructs are seldom held to the same standards as those killing outside social constructs. This is one of the important reasons I don’t categorize rule of law as a legitimate social construct. It can’t be trusted to operate as treating operators and civilians the same. We don’t even get to the ‘We are promised equal rules for all.’

          Your mention of threat is somewhat generous. When I was running Gypsys violations of the ‘live and let live’ fundamental against Dee Dee, I had to take pause and re-evaluate. Dee Dee was the initial violater against Gypsy. Dee Dee was creating action upon Gypsy physically. That is no longer in the realm of threat, as the actions occured. That type of action tends to, in my mind back it out of social constructs and lends itself to individual constructs involving self defense. Now whether killing was or was not the most viable option for self defense, I’m not sure, and really the only one who had subjective interest in stopping the action was Gypsy herself.(this before weighing in the boyfriend participation)Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

      It is just as interesting to me to see your belief that Blancharde’s only option was to kill the hell outta that motherfucker.

      Like, you don’t really seem like the kind of person who would advocate that response to problems with another person.Report