On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five children in their bathtub. She had been battling severe postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis, and schizophrenia. Her struggles with mental health were not new; at the age of 17, she confided in a friend about her thoughts of suicide.
Early Life and Struggles with Mental Health
Andrea Yates was born in Hallsville, Texas, and was the youngest of five siblings. During her teenage years, she struggled with bulimia and depression and even spoke to a friend about her suicidal thoughts. Despite these challenges, Andrea excelled academically and was a high-achieving student. She graduated from Milby High School in 1982 as the class valedictorian, captain of the swim team, and an officer in the National Honor Society.
For a period of time, Andrea and her husband Rusty chose to reject the typical suburban lifestyle and lived in a converted bus with their children. This unconventional living arrangement, however, only added to Andrea’s already unstable mental health due to her postpartum depression. While Rusty left the “bus house” daily for work, Andrea was confined to the small space with their children, whom she homeschooled. With no time to herself, the situation added pressure to her mental state.
After the birth of their fourth child, the couple eventually moved to a proper house, but Andrea’s mental condition did not improve.
Andrea was admitted to mental institutions four times in two years.
In 1999, Andrea experienced her first mental breakdown after giving birth to her fourth child, Luke. During that same year, she intentionally overdosed on depression medication and was admitted to the psychiatric unit of a Methodist hospital. The following month, she attempted suicide again and was transferred to Memorial Spring Shadows Glen Hospital. There, she was prescribed Haldol, an antipsychotic medication, which appeared to be effective as she did not attempt suicide or harm her children for the next two years.
However, after giving birth to her fifth child, Mary, in 2001, Andrea’s mental state deteriorated once again. She was admitted to Devereux Texas Treatment Network twice in the early part of that year and was once again prescribed antipsychotics. The death of her father that same year may have contributed to her worsening mental health.
Andrea and her husband were advised to stop having children
Doctors had cautioned Andrea Yates and her husband against having more children, warning that stopping her medication and the hormonal changes associated with pregnancy could trigger a recurrence of her depression. However, despite these warnings, Andrea ceased taking her medication and became pregnant with their fifth child.
Her husband Rusty denied her mental illness and instead attributed her mental health struggles to “demons.” He believed that having another child would somehow drive away these supposed demons.
Ignoring Medical Advice and Tragedy
Andrea’s psychiatrist had advised Rusty Yates never to leave her alone with the children due to the risk of her potentially harmful behavior. Despite this warning, Rusty disregarded the psychiatrist’s advice and left Andrea alone with the children for hours. He justified his actions by saying that he wanted Andrea to become more independent and not rely on him.
The psychiatrist took her off medications 16 days before she drowned her children -Andrea Yates began seeing psychiatrist Mohammed Saeed as part of her treatment, and he prescribed her antipsychotics, including Haldol. However, despite her continuing delusions, Saeed took her off the medication 16 days before she committed the murders.
According to Rusty Yates’ testimony, Andrea’s mental health deteriorated even further after this, but Saeed still refused to prescribe Haldol and even admitted her to inpatient psychiatric treatment.
Drowning her children
On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates was left alone with her five children at their home in Clear Lake City, Houston, despite her psychiatrist’s warning that she should be supervised around the clock. Her husband, Rusty, had gone to work and his mother was supposed to arrive one hour after he left to take care of the children.
However, in that one hour, Andrea drowned all five of her children. She began with John, Paul, and Luke, and then placed them on her bed. Next, she drowned Mary, leaving her floating in the bathtub. When Noah walked in and asked what was wrong with Mary, he attempted to run away, but Andrea caught him and drowned him too.
Afterward, Andrea called the police multiple times without stating the reason and then called her husband, instructing him to come home immediately.
Trial of Andrea Yates
Andrea admitted to drowning her children. Before her second trial, she told Dr. Michael Welner that she waited for her husband to leave for work that morning. She even filled the bathtub after her husband left, as he would stop her from harming the children.
To carry out the act, Andrea first locked the family dog, Welner, in a cage to prevent it from getting in the way. Welner was usually allowed to roam freely around the house.
Rusty got a family friend to be an attorney for Andrea. The defense expert testified that Andrea was suffering from psychosis. However, Texas law requires the defendant to prove that they could not distinguish right from wrong at the time of the crime to successfully use an insanity defense.
In March 2002, the jury rejected the insanity defense and found Andrea guilty. However, they did not choose the death penalty sought by the prosecution. Instead, the trial court sentenced her to life imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with the possibility of parole after 40 years.
“Law And Order” episodes were responsible?
On January 6, 2005, a Texas Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of Andrea Yates. This was due to revelations that a prosecution witness, Dr. Park Dietz, a psychiatrist from California, had given false testimony during the trial. Dr. Dietz admitted that he had provided materially false testimony, which led to the reversal of the convictions.
During the trial, Dr. Park Dietz testified that an episode of the television show Law and Order had aired shortly before the murders. He claimed that the episode featured a woman who drowned her children and was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity. This was presented as evidence that Andrea Yates was aware of the legal defense of insanity and knew what she was doing was wrong.
However, an author and Yale University lecturer named Susanna O’Malley, who was covering the story for The Oprah Magazine and NBC News, discovered that no such episode of Law and Order had aired before the murders. O’Malley, who was also a writer for Law and Order, confirmed that an episode called “Magnificat,” which was based in part on Yates’ case, had aired in 2004 – after the murders had been committed in 2001. This revelation cast doubt on the validity of Dr. Dietz’s testimony and contributed to the reversal of Yates
Andrea Yates was found not Guilty
The appellate court unanimously decided that Dr. Dietz’s false testimony might have influenced the jury’s verdict in Andrea Yates’ case and ordered a new trial.
On January 9, 2006, Andrea Yates pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity once again. She was granted bail on the condition that she be admitted to a mental health treatment facility starting February 1.
On July 26, 2006, the state of Texas found Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity. She was then committed to North Texas Hospital-Vernon Campus, before being moved to Kerrville State Hospital, a low-security mental facility in Kerrville, Texas.
Psychiatrists for both the state prosecutors and her defense lawyers agreed that Andrea Yates was severely mentally ill and suffering from one of several psychotic diseases when she killed her children. Despite this, the state of Texas claimed that she was aware of her actions as being right or wrong, despite her mental defect. The prosecution also suggested that the killings were motivated by spousal revenge, but defense experts disagreed, stating that there was no evidence to support this claim.
The jury believed that Andrea Yates was legally aware of her actions, but they did not agree that her decision to drown her children was motivated by spousal revenge.
Andrea’s mother blamed Rusty.
During the trial, Andrea’s mother, Karin Kennedy, criticized Rusty, Andrea’s husband. She stated that Rusty never helped out at home and believed that child care and cleaning were solely the wife’s responsibility.
Karin claimed that Rusty had never changed a diaper before, and she was horrified when she found out. She explained that Rusty’s lack of understanding made things even more difficult for Andrea.
In 2004, Rusty filed for divorce, stating that he and Andrea had not lived together as a married couple since the day of the murder. The divorce was granted on March 17, 2005. Rusty began dating his second wife, and they had a son together. However, Laura Arnold, his second wife, filed for divorce in 2015.
Negative influence on the family
Rusty’s encounter with an itinerant preacher during his time at Auburn University would change his family’s life forever. This preacher, Michael Woroniecki, would become a religious idol to Rusty’s family, and they would try to follow his every command. Woroniecki preached that everyone was destined for hell, and the couple became devout followers.
Unfortunately, Andrea’s mental state was fragile, and she was susceptible to Woroniecki’s beliefs. She took his words to heart and believed that killing her children was the only way to save them from an eternity in hell. Tragically, she followed through with this belief, and her children lost their lives.
However, despite these horrific events, the couple has rejected the accusations against Woroniecki. They believe that Andrea was solely responsible for her actions and that the preacher’s teachings did not directly lead to the tragedy.
In an interview, Rusty stated to the media that he was never told by psychiatrists that his wife was psychotic nor that she could harm the children, and had he known otherwise, he would never have had more children. “If I’d known she was psychotic, we’d never have even considered having more kids.“
Rusty stays in touch with Andrea.
In a surprising turn of events, Rusty Yates revealed in a 2008 interview that he still keeps in touch with his ex-wife, Andrea Yates. Despite the tragic events that occurred years prior, Rusty and Andrea have been exchanging emails and speaking on the phone from time to time.
What’s even more surprising is that Rusty has been sharing pictures of his new family with Andrea. This includes images of his young son, Mark. It’s unclear how Andrea responds to these pictures, but Rusty seems to have found a way to reconcile with his past while still moving forward with his life.
Andrea Yates Now
During her time in prison, Andrea revealed that she had considered killing her children for two years before the act. She believed that she was not a good mother and that her sons were not developing properly. To her, it was the seventh deadly sin to let them continue to live in such a state. In her eyes, her children were doomed to perish in the fires of hell due to the way she was raising them.
She even told the jail psychiatrist, "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. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell. "
After the tragic events that led to the death of her children, Andrea Yates was admitted to Kerrville State Hospital in 2007. According to her doctor, her mental health has stabilized over the years. However, despite being eligible for review hearings, Yates waives them every year.
A review hearing is the first step towards being considered for release from the hospital. However, it’s unclear why Yates chooses to waive them each year. Perhaps she doesn’t feel ready to return to the outside world yet, or maybe she feels that she still needs more time to heal.