While baby-snatching may be very rare (unless you believe network procedurals), it does make you wonder: how much is crime and how much mental illness? And when it comes to trying Ann Pettway, does it matter?
As Daniel Engber wrote in a 2010 piece on the phenomenon, when it comes to baby-snatchers (which makes the crime sound both benign and vaguely involuntary),
The thief is almost always a woman of child-bearing age, usually in a relationship with a boyfriend or husband. She often commits the crime in an effort to salvage her romance: She fakes a pregnancy and tells her partner that the stolen infant belongs to him. Even when she's not trying to dupe a lover, the snatcher's intentions tend to be uncomplicated: She will care for the baby as if it were her own.
Pettway apparently corresponded to all these criteria, down to the troubled romance. Following her surrender to the FBI on Sunday, she's now being held without bail; If convicted, she faces a maximum sentence of life in prison; the minimum is 20 years.
Am I suggesting leniency? No — but the tone of the coverage has been, to put it mildly, strange. ABC talks about whether she's ready to "face the family she tore apart" and asks whether she's "really sorry." But surely there were more factors involved than mere cartoon malevolence? While the crime is unquestionably just that — and a tragic one, at that — baby-snatching goes hand-in-hand with mental disturbance. In the past, women have been diagnosed with PTSD and disorders stemming from the loss of children. We don't know Pettway's mental state, now or then, but that's the point. Whatever it is, is it an excuse? Of course not — but the slavering coverage strikes a false note. The last word should perhaps go to Joy White, Carlina's mother. "She needs help."
Invasion Of The Baby-Snatchers [Slate]