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 turned out to be two hours. Jurors sounded a buzzer on the door and walked in quietly. A court clerk announced their verdict: guilty as charged. The conviction was not unexpected under the limitations of Texas' insanity law, yet it seemed unbelievable. Rusty buried his head in his large hands and moaned, "Oh God."

If jurors could reject her insanity plea and convict her, then they could very well vote to execute her since Texas requires jurors to determine the punishment. Family and friends looked for a glimmer of hope. Maybe the jurors cut a deal with themselves — convict her, but don't send her to death row. After all, the law prevented them from knowing that she would be hospitalized if she were found not guilty by insanity. Maybe they had convicted her because they did not want her to just walk free. Maybe the conviction was a compromise. In two days, the jury would return for the penalty phase of the trial.

A question about testimony

But first, the pair of defense lawyers had discovered a flaw in the testimony of Park Dietz, the psychiatrist who had told jurors "as a matter of fact" that the Law & Order episode that inspired Andrea to drown the kids in the bathtub aired shortly before the fatal day. Prosecutors also had emphasized it as proof of premeditation in closing arguments.

As it turns out, the defense lawyers learned, the episode as he described it had never aired and the plot line was different than he recalled. When they prepared to call the show's producers as witnesses to persuade the judge to declare a mistrial, Dietz sent a letter to prosecutors acknowledging his error.

"My memory about the content of the show was incorrect. I was confounding the facts of three filicide cases I worked on — Susan Smith, Amy Grossberg, and Melissa Drexler — and two episodes of Law & Order that were based in part on those cases" Dietz wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by TIME. Additionally, he had been wrong about being told directly that Andrea watched the TV series. In fact, he only had read another doctor's report in which Rusty once said his wife liked to watch every episode of the show. "I also wish to clarify that Mrs. Yates said nothing to me about either episode or about the Law & Order series," he wrote.

Further, Dietz told TIME in an interview at his California office, that while he agreed with the jury's verdict, he disagreed with the law. "I believe we should recognize our sick parents in several ways and handle them differently both during hospitalization and when they commit crimes," he said. For example, British doctors will keep depressed mothers and their newborns together in hospitals to monitor them over a period of weeks or months.

The penalty

Back in Houston, after a one-day, the trial of Andrea Yates resumed for the penalty phase without jurors who convicted her knowing that Dietz, personally, was unsure about the fairness of the law used to reject her insanity defense. Andrea's lawyers, who questioned whether he misled the jury, asked for a mistrial based on his mistaken testimony about the influence of the TV show, a request denied by Judge Belinda Hill.

On Thursday, the jurors began to hear about the softer soft of Andrea. Before deciding whether she should live or die, they heard pleas to spare her life from witnesses who described Andrea as the devoted mom who wanted her children to be curious and bright, the helpful daughter who cared for her ailing father until his death, the remarkable young woman who loved being a nurse and swimming before she got married and had as many children as God would give her before the Devil stole them away.

During the closing statements, prosecutor Joe Owmby stopped shy of telling jurors specifically why the case met the criteria for the death penalty. But Kaylynn Williford, the other prosecutor, did. She pointed to photos of the children, asking jurors to take the pictures with them into the deliberation room. "Everyone is trying to make this a woman's issue or a political issue," she told jurors, "but the issue to me is five dead children."

When defense lawyer George Parnham and Wendell Odom took their turns, they choked back tears as they talked about Andrea and the life of suffering ahead of her, knowing what she has done to her children, to her husband and to herself. Hadn't she been punished enough?

As the four men and eight women returned to the courtroom one last time and took their seats in the jury box, Andrea stared straight ahead, void of emotion. None of the jurors would look at her. Four sheriff's deputies guarded the doors of the courtroom filled with friends, relatives, legal secretaries, reporters and others who came to see the outcome of four weeks of heart-wrenching testimony. Judge Hill warned against outbursts. If you can't control yourself, she said, leave now.

Everyone stayed. Andrea and her lawyers stood as Judge Hill reviewed the jury's paperwork, which was read aloud by a court clerk. At least 10 of the 12 jurors opted for life in prison, not death by lethal injection.

Sitting in a middle row and nodding his head, Rusty showed no other reaction. Neither did Andrea. She did not understand the decision until she saw the reaction of her lawyers. As the deputies ordered everyone to leave the courtroom, she did not glance back at Rusty. The husband who had supported her even though she killed their children walked outside in the afternoon drizzle, standing behind a cluster of microphones and a mob of reporters and cameramen. He had something to say; and he knew the world was watching.

First, he told the crowd, his family had been let down by the mental health system. And even though Andrea would not be executed, the murder conviction alone meant that his family also was let down by the criminal justice system, too. "We were offended that she was even prosecuted," he said. He initially wanted Dr. Saeed charged with a crime for giving his wife inadequate treatment, but he has told TIME that prosecutors laughed, saying, "Fat chance."

Outside the courthouse, Rusty had waited for months to stand before the cameras and talk so publicly about his family's ordeal. But a judge's gag order prevented him and others in the case from talking. Liberated by the verdict against his wife, Rusty answered questions about why he did not find another doctor for her and why he risked the safety of his children by leaving her alone the morning of June 20. "We didn't see her as a danger," he said. "The real question to me is: How could she have been so ill and the medical community not diagnose her, not treat her, and obviously not protect our family from her."

Standing there, Rusty appeared to have no regrets about any of the choices he and Andrea had made in their life together. No regrets about moving into the trailer, then the bus. About having a fifth child, who had been "a blessing." About his own inability to recognize his wife's needs. About his own part in their lack of communication in which she apparently suffered scary visions for years but never told him. About not researching postpartum depression and psychosis in the two years before his wife killed their kids.

Moving on

Rusty still has thousands of dollars donated after the drownings to help pay for the funerals and others costs, and he has used part of the leftover funds to buy a cemetery memorial and start a website dedicated to his children. He hasn't decided what to do with the rest of it. He says he and Mrs. Kennedy are sharing his wife's legal fees.

Rusty has come a long way since the morning of the deaths, when he collapsed in a fetal position and cried as a police officer questioned him in the yard of their house on Beachcomber Lane. He told the officer that he never wanted to see his wife's face; she had killed their babies. He watched as officers led Andrea in handcuffs to a police car and drove away. But later the same afternoon, as crime scene technicians photographed the home and carried away evidence, Rusty stood outside and kept asking himself, "How could she do this? How could she do this?" Then it hit him. "It wasn't Andrea. It was the illness." He vowed to support her.

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