Andrea Yates: More To The Story

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Andrea Yates gives a tight-lipped smile to her defense attorney

It had come down to the final moment. Andrea Yates, wearing a white sweater, sat next to her lawyers at the defense table in the courtroom. Several rows back, her husband, Rusty, could hardly believe their lives had turned out this way. Their five children were dead, drowned by their mother in a case that shocked their family and stunned the world. His wife, charged with capital murder and convicted two days earlier, could be sentenced to death by lethal injection unless the jury of strangers who found her guilty now spared her life. The jurors had been gone for 35 minutes. Behind closed doors, they were weighing the facts and deliberating her future. Did she pose a future threat to society? Or was the killing of her own children a redeemable act?

Until his wife's arrest last summer, Rusty had supported the death penalty. He still remembered the times when he and Andrea would sit in their living room discussing the rights and wrongs of execution. His views on capital punishment, like so many others in his life, had been based upon Scripture. It was from Romans 13 that he'd first read to her how God gave the authority to rulers of the land to uphold their laws, for governments to carry out his will against the evil of murderers. Andrea later marked the passage in her Bible. Now, the word of God could come back to haunt her, like the voice of demons that she claimed drove her to kill her own.

In Texas, the law on insanity defenses is among the most restrictive in the nation. So narrow are the nuances of the state's centuries-old law that it was not enough for Yates' defense lawyers to simply prove that she twice attempted suicide, had been hospitalized four times for psychiatric care and nursed a psychosis before the drownings clearly documented in thousands of pages of medical records. No, Andrea's motives may have been delusional, but if she were able to distinguish right from wrong — good from evil — while committing the crime, jurors had little choice but to reject her plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and convict her.

To reach their verdict, jurors seemed to rely heavily on the persuasive testimony of a famous forensic psychiatrist, Park Dietz, who was paid $500 an hour by prosecutors to dispute claims that Andrea Yates was insane under the Texas law. Now, TIME has learned, questions are surfacing about the reliability of the state's key witness who has admitted that he mixed up facts that prosecutors wound up emphasizing to the jury. Dietz also has told TIME that he opposes the very law that he helped prosecutors apply to Yates and jurors used to deny her insanity defense.

Inside the Courtroom

The trial had been long and emotional. At times, the evidence was complex and overwhelming. Jurors listened to a taped confession in which Andrea told a detective that she had to kill her five children, whom she home-schooled, because she had failed them as a mother. Jurrors saw police photographs of the bathtub where she drowned them one by one, and the bed where she had laid them side by side. They heard how one boy's fist still held strands of his mother's hair, which he must have yanked out during their struggle. They watched home videos of laughing children and their parents in happier times. At nearly every turn, prosecutors Joe Owmby and Kaylynn Williford reminded jurors that the victims were young and innocent and their deaths were cold and calculated.

While defense lawyers called several expert witnesses who had different opinions about Andrea's actual diagnosis, each told jurors she obviously had been psychotic and delusional at the time. After her arrest, jail psychiatrist Melissa Ferguson testified, Andrea was put on medications that enabled her to finally talk about the visions and voices that she says guided her actions. It was only after she was placed in a jail cell, naked, on suicide watch that Andrea spoke of the Satan inside her and the only was to be rid of him: She had to be executed. And she had to kill the children, as Satan demanded, to get the death penalty.

Andrea tried to explain. "It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them they could never be saved," she told the jail psychiatrist. "They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell."

Jurors took notes as Rusty testified about his life with Andrea, whom he had met when they were both 25 years old and living in the same apartment complex in Houston. He told them how their family had grown, and how they had moved from a house in suburbia to a camping trailer to a bus converted into a motor home, where Andrea focused on raising the toddlers. After the birth of their fourth child, Luke, in 1999, Andrea tried twice to commit suicide. She was hospitalized both times and was diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis.

The couple and their four sons moved from the bus into their house on Beachcomber Lane in a Houston suburb. She recovered while using Haldol, but eventually stopped taking the medication. Against the advice of her psychiatrist, Andrea soon became pregnant again with their fifth child, Mary. Within months, following the death of her ailing father, her psychosis returned. Instead of taking her back to the same doctor who'd treated her before, Rusty told jurors that he and Andrea went to the Devereux-Texas Treatment Network, where Mohammed Saeed became Andrea's psychiatrist. Rusty testified that he never knew that Andrea had visions and voices; he said he never knew she had considered killing the children. Neither did Dr. Saeed, even though the delusions could have been found in medical records from 1999. Andrea would not talk or eat.

After only slight improvement, Andrea was released from Devereux. A month later, she had another episode. Rusty took her back to Devereux. Again, she was released. Dr. Saeed reluctantly prescribed Haldol, the same drug that worked in a drug cocktail for her in 1999. But after a few weeks, he took her off the drug, citing his concerns about side effects. (For more on Saeed's response, see our previous examination of the Yates trial.) Though Andrea's condition seemed to be worsening two days before the drownings, when her husband drove her to Saeed's office, Rusty testified, the doctor refused to try Haldol longer or return her to the hospital. Rusty was frustrated, he told the jury, and he didn't know what else to do.

'Satan destroys and leaves'

As the trial continued, the parade of experts included the celebrated psychiatrist Park Dietz, whom the District Attorney's Office paid $500 an hour to analyze Andrea and explain to the jury why she should be convicted despite the insanity law because, by her own admission, she knew her actions were wrong.

Known for his testimony as a prosecution witness in high-profile crimes, Dietz had worked on the cases of John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan; Susan Smith, who killed her children by driving her car into a pond; and the Unabomber. He also helped proclaim legally sane Jeffrey Dahmer, who kept the heads of his murder victims in his freezer. He had credentials that the Texas prosecutors thought qualified him to review Andrea Yates, though he had limited knowledge of postpartum psychosis.

Dietz's two days of testimony would be riveting and revealing. His polished demeanor captivated the jury; he used a Powerpoint presentation to illustrate how he reached his conclusions and a video to show his interviews with Andrea in the Harris County Jail.

"Before you did it," Dietz asked Andrea during one videotaped session, "did you think it was wrong?"


Dietz asked, "Why did you not think it wrong?"

Andrea answered without hesitation. "If I didn't do it, they would be tormented by Satan.

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