Andrea Yates, a Houston mother of 5, drowned all of her children in her bathtub on June 20, 2001, after suffering from severe postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, and schizophrenia.
At the trial, the district attorney had asked for the death penalty, but despite finding her guilty, the jury did not agree with sentencing her to die, and instead sentenced her to a life sentence with a possibility of parole after 40 years.
In 2006, a Texas jury overturned the original conviction based on a false testimony, and she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was committed to a high-security mental health facility. In 2007, she was moved to a lower security state mental hospital.
BACKGROUND, BABIES AND PSYCHOSIS (1)
Andrea had experienced issues with her mental health dating back to her adolescence. As a teenager, she suffered from an eating disorder and depression, and spoke to friends about suicide when she was 17.
But despite her struggles, she was successful. She graduated from high school in 1982 as the class valedictorian, the captain of the swim team and an officer of the National Honor Society. She graduated from the University of Texas School of Nursing, and got a job as a registered nurse from 1986 to 1994.
She met Russell "Rusty" Yates in the summer of 1989, and they moved in together, and married a few years later on April 17, 1993. In the spirit of their goal of "having as many babies as nature allowed", they bought a 4-bedroom home and had their first child in 1994.
Rusty accepted a job in Florida, so they relocated, living in a small trailer. But by the time their 3rd child was born, they had moved back to Houston and were living in a motor home.
After the birth of their 4th child, Andrea became very depressed. Rusty found her shaking and chewing her fingers, and the following day, she tried to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. She was admitted, prescribed anti-depressants, and released. After her release, she held a knife up to her neck, begging Rusty to let her die. This resulted in another hospitalization.
This time, she was given a cocktail of medications, which seemed to improve her mental health significantly. The family moved into a small home.
In July of 1999, she suffered a nervous breakdown which included 2 suicide attempts and 2 psychiatric hospitalizations. During this time, she was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. Her psychiatrist told her and Rusty that they should not have any more children, as it would absolutely lead to further psychotic depression. But despite that warning, they conceived their 5th child only a few months after she was discharged, and the couple had their first daughter in 2000.
She was off of some medications and still taking others, and doing okay as a mother of 5, until her father died in March of 2001. At that point, she stopped taking all of her medications, mutilated herself and began to read the bible fervently. She stopped feeding her daughter, who had to be immediately hospitalized because of it.
She went under the care of a new psychiatrist, Dr. Saeed, in April. But after she was released, in May she reverted back to a "near catatonic" state. Once, she filled the bathtub in the middle of the day, confessing later that she had planned to kill her children that day. But when they went do the doctor to discuss this, it was assumed she had filled the bathtub with the intent to kill herself.
THE DROWNINGS AND THE TRIALS (1)
Though Dr. Saeed had told Rusty to supervise Andrea around the clock, never leaving her unsupervised with the children, on June 20, 2001, he left for work, leaving her alone with all 5 children. His mother was supposed to come take over for her in 1 hour, but in that time, she drowned all 5 of her children.
She started with the middle 3 children, John, Paul and Luke, ages 5, 3 and 2, respectively, drowning each of them as the others ate their breakfast. She laid their bodies out on her bed.
Next, she drowned Mary, her 6-month old baby. When her oldest, 7-year-old Noah came in and asked what was wrong with Mary, he realized something was amiss and ran, but she caught him, drowning him in the tub alongside Mary. She left his body floating there, and moved Mary's body to the bed, putting her in John's arms.
She claims she killed them because she wanted to protect their souls from the Devil.
She called the police over and over again, saying she needed an officer, but did not say why. She called Rusty and told him to come home right away.
She confessed to drowning her children right away, and even stated that she waited for him to leave for work because she knew he would stop her. Their dog was also locked up, which was, according to Rusty, not common, leading many to believe he was locked up so he wouldn't interfere with her plans to kill her children.
Though the defense was successful in convincing the jury that Andrea was psychotic, in order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, they would have to prove that, at the time, she did not know right from wrong, which they were unable to do. The defense rested their case on March 7, 2002. She was found guilty of murdering all 5 of her children, and sentenced to life in prison.
However, the verdict was overturned in 2006 when it was revealed that prosecution witness Dr. Park Dietz gave materially false testimony. He had stated that a similar case had happened on Law & Order and that character was acquitted by reason of insanity, but no such episode had ever existed. It was thought that his false testimony could have swayed jurors, and thus, she was given a new trial.
Her lawyers once again argued that she was not guilty by reason of insanity, and on July 26, 2006, after 3 days of jury deliberations, she was acquitted and committed to a mental health facility.
Public perception of Rusty Yates has always been interesting. Though some saw him as a grieving father and husband, some were thrown off by his lack of emotion during the trial, and others blame him entirely for the murders. (1)
Yates, a former NASA engineer, was told by Dr. Saeed to ever leave her unattended, but in the weeks leading up to the murders, he was leaving her alone for longer periods of time, with the goal of improving her independence. In fact, the weekend before she would drown all 5 of their young children, he announced at a family gathering that he would be leaving her alone for 1 hour every morning and 1 hour every evening to decrease her dependence on him and his mom. Andrea's mother was shocked when she heard of this plan, believing her daughter was not in the right state of mind to care for 5 children alone. (1)
Dr. Saeed did not know that Andrea was being left unsupervised until he was on the phone with Rusty after news of the drownings had broke. (2)
(I have a hard time making a decision based only on that. Of course, he was going against doctor's orders and leaving an unstable, psychotic woman home with his children. However, one must believe that he had absolutely no idea that doing this might lead to the deaths of all of his children. I doubt that was even part of his worst-case-scenario.)
In an interview, Andrea's brother Brian Kennedy, said that Rusty had expressed to him that he felt depressed people just needed a "swift kick in the pants" to get them motivated, despite Kennedy trying to explain to him how sick his sister truly was. (1)
And beyond his disregard of his wife's mental state, he also believed that religious factors were at play.
"The bible says the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour. I look at Andrea, and I think that Andrea was weak. Think about a field of deer, and there's one limping around, and that's kind of the way I see it. Andrea was weak, and he attacked her." Yates said in an interview with TIME. (2)
Rusty claimed that he did not know his wife was psychotic, or that she was told not to have any more children, and had he known, he claimed he would have never tried to have more. However, speaking with her prison psychiatrist, Andrea said that she told Rusty she did not want to have sex because it could harm their children, and he "asserted his procreative religious beliefs", and assured her that she was a good mother and could handle another child. (1)
During the trial, Rusty even talked about how, once she got out of prison and was successfully treated for all of her health conditions, that they could have more children, even through adoption if necessary.
Rusty never blamed his wife, and always blamed her illness for the killings - but he also blamed Dr. Saeed, saying that he was partially responsible for not managing or treating her properly. The prosecution and defense brought experts both to speak to the combination of medications he had put her on, arguing if the medication cocktail was part of the reason for what happened or not.
There was also an attempt to blame Michael Woroniecki, a preacher who's teachings were sent to the family in a newsletter. His teachings were extreme and bizarre, and the newsletters were entered into evidence, with the argument that these teachings fueled her delusions, but Rusty claimed that was not true.
Yates, however, said that she planned to kill her children for 2 years. She believed her sons were developing improperly and were not able to be righteous because she was evil. She felt that Satan had influenced her children.
Though Rusty did not blame Andrea for her actions, he admitted that they took a toll on him and he could not stay with her. He filed for divorce and remarried, having another child. His second wife filed for divorce. He still keeps in contact with her. (3)
Andrea Yates, still in the mental facility, says she still grieves for her children and misses them every day. (4)
This case is extremely complex and it is difficult to find just one feeling about it that rises to the top. It is difficult to place all of the blame on Andrea. Sure, she drowned all 5 of her children, but after mental breakdowns and suicide attempts and the need for extreme lists of medications to keep her sane. It is difficult to place all of the blame on Rusty. He left her alone and pressured her to have more children, both against the severe warning from her psychiatrist, but one must believe that had he known that this was possible, he absolutely would not have done either. It is difficult to place all of the blame on the doctor, who was coming in at the last minute, dealing with an extremely psychotic patient who had already experienced the side effects of postpartum depression after 4 pregnancies.
It was a combination of all of these things, really. A severely depressed and psychotic woman who decided to kill her kids. A husband who didn't understand the severity of the situation and hoped he could fix it with tough love. A doctor who, perhaps, did not know exactly how to treat this type of patient. It was a perfect storm, with not one single person to blame: But blame doesn't much matter. The crux of the situation is that 5 innocent children died that day. Whether it was because of a mother who didn't want them or a doctor who didn't know what to prescribe her or a father who was negligent, 5 children lost their chance to grow up and have a future that day. And regardless of who was at fault for it, or who could have prevented it, it happened. And that is what this case is ultimately about.