Andrea Yates: More To The Story

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

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"It was a bad choice," she continued. "I shouldn't have done it." She began to sound regretful as the camera recorded the interview. "There was distress, but I still felt I had to do it."

Dietz zeroed in. "As you drowned each one, did you think it was the right thing to be doing?" Andrea nodded yes. Dietz asked, upon drowning the kids, if she thought about heaven.

"I was praying they would go there."

She said she called the police because she knew the murders would be perceived as bad, despite her higher purpose. Now, Andrea also told Dietz, she believed she was psychotic when she thought the devil had guided her. "He left when I committed my crime," she said.

Dietz asked why Satan would leave her after she had obeyed him.

"He destroys and then leaves," Andrea replied.

On the witness stand, Dietz took the jury through what he had dubbed Andrea's "Homicide Phase" and "Post-Homicide Phase." In both, Dietz testified, she knew right from wrong. The reasons: she had contemplated murdering the kids for two years but stopped herself; she called police and wanted to be arrested; she related the death penalty to a punishment; she believed God would judge her actions as bad; and, he said, guilt caused her to cover the bodies on the bed.

That day of the drownings, June 20, Andrea suffered some psychosis, he said. But her symptoms became more severe the next day in jail. In his testimony designed to persuade jurors that she was not legally insane when killing the children, Dietz stressed that her "extreme sickness" and "gross psychosis" occurred only after the deaths. "There seemed to be new delusions and disorganized thinking on June 21st," he said. George Parnham, the bespectacled Houston defense lawyer who represented Andrea with his longtime friend Wendell Odom, pushed the doctor to explain why, then, did she kill the kids on the 20th?

Dietz told jurors he would be inclined to believe Andrea's fears of Satan, except that her actions spoke louder than words as the mother violently held her precious children underwater. "I would expect her to try and comfort the children, telling them they are going to be with Jesus or with God, but she does not offer words of comfort to the children."

He doubted whether Andrea really felt tormented by demons before she was jailed for killing her children because he would have expected her to talk to a friend or minister about her thoughts. But Dietz did not tell the jury that the religious overtones of her delusions — a mother doomed for the fires of Hell — could be linked to what religious influences she did have in her life. She and Rusty had their own Bible study in their home because Rusty had not found a church he liked. Besides Rusty, her only other spiritual source was her husband's former spiritual mentor, Michael Woroniecki, a renegade minister whose writings fault women for the woes of their children.

But Dietz did attempt to explain that the simple life that Andrea and Rusty sought by living in the bus and home-schooling the kids left her feeling "controlled" by the circumstances of her life. To show jurors how psychosis manipulates reality, fears and thought process, Dietz used the examples of her two suicide attempts in 1999. "This was her way of escaping an intolerable situation," he testified. "Escape is something she couldn't admit she needed."

Describing her methods as part of a "criminal plan" instead of a psychotic state, Dietz said he found contradictions in her logic: "If it's true that she believed that killing the children would save them, then why would she not want it to happen? She would want to talk about it so it came true and the children would be saved. So, I concluded at that point she's keeping it secret, she knows that other people are going to stop her, that it's wrong, that it's a bad idea. She admits that she knows people will stop her."

Dietz told jurors that Andrea got the idea of drowning the children from a recent episode of Law & Order, the TV crime show for which he happens to be a consultant. He had been told that Andrea frequently watched the program, and he testified that he once worked on an episode in which a woman drowns her child in a bathtub.

The videotaped exchanges between Andrea and Dietz were more dramatic than any TV show. At one point, he told jurors, Andrea recounted how she drowned each child before ending with Noah, the oldest. "I'm sorry," Andrea quoted Noah's last words as he struggled in the tub of water.

Closing arguments

Throughout the trial, Rusty and other witnesses subpoenaed to testify were not allowed inside the courtroom. He would sit in the hallway, often playing Tetris on his Palm Pilot. Sometimes he paced. He would talk to reporters sent to cover the sensational murder trial, and even allowed ABC-TV researchers to shadow him for a few days until one of them reportedly made a remark that insulted him.

Last week Rusty found a seat in the courtroom to hear closing arguments. He and his family stayed together on one side of the courtroom while Andrea's mother, Karin Kennedy, and her brothers sat on the other. Not even for the sake of a unified front for Andrea's trial could Rusty and his in-laws fake a truce in a relationship that has seemed strained since Rusty and Andrea married. Some in the Kennedy family still criticized Rusty for doing too little to get treatment for her — and at least for failing to hire a nanny or housekeeper. On June 20, Rusty spent the night in a motel with his relatives but did not go see Andrea's elderly mother. The distance between Rusty and her became more evident when Mrs. Kennedy, who had come alone one day, sobbed sadly outside the courtroom. With no other relatives there, a reporter comforted her.

A hush fell over the courtroom when Assistant District Attorney Kaylynn Williford, trying the first capital murder case of her career, began to explain why the state of Texas would prosecute a mother with a history of mental illness. Williford aroused the emotions of the jurors and reminded them that the victims were helpless as Andrea forced them into the water. Noah, she recalled graphically, had died in water containing vomit and feces from the others who died before him. "Is this the act of a loving mother?" She asked. Then, she asked them to take three minutes of silence while they were back in the jury room. That's how long it takes for a child to lose consciousness, she told them. She used Andrea's own words against her, telling jurors to think back to her confession: "I killed my kids," she told both the detective and the first officer on the scene. Andrea did not say, "I saved my kids."

In the end, jurors had to weigh the disputed testimony of the experts — do they believe Dr. Dietz or the array of defense experts who could not agree on Andrea's condition? When the jury finally was escorted to the conference room where they deliberated, nobody could predict whether they would be gone for hours or days or whether they would even be able to reach a decision.

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