Andrea Yates was charged with the killing of her five children in 2001. At the time of the killing the subject of infanticide was rare in the United States. Infanticide is the crime of killing of a child within a year of birth or the killing of an infant by their own parent. The law demands retribution. Some researchers claim that the perpetrator may be a victim as well. Andrea Yates had years of pregnancies, postpartum depression, psychosis, medication, and possibly emotional abuse or neglect by her husband, Rusty Yates. America would be horrified by the murders that were systematically performed by the mother of her five children. She was convicted of those crimes and sentenced to life in prison. Her conviction was overturned in 2006 and she has been in a state mental hospital since that time. Andrea Yates has been the center of scrutiny and hate by society for her actions. There was an uncommon mix of psychosis and hyper-religious beliefs fueled by the post-natal disorders that lead her to not be herself. There are accusations that Rusty ignored her symptoms of depression. Her mental illness and post-natal disorders had spiraled out of control.
Andrea Pia Kennedy was born July 2, 1064, in Hallsville, Texas. She was born to the parents of Andrew Kennedy and Jutta Karin (Koehler) Kennedy. There is no noted domestic violence or parental abuse. There were no drugs or criminal activity noted in the family household. She is the youngest of five children: Michelle Freeman, Brian Kennedy, Andrew Kennedy, and Patrick Kennedy.
She graduated valedictorian of Houston Milby High School in 1982. She was the captain of the swim team and an officer in the National Honor Society. Yates completed a two-year pre-nursing program at the University of Houston and graduated from the University of Texas School of Nursing in 1986. Until 1994, she worked as a registered nurse at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
Her intelligence and cognitive functioning was obviously at a high level. Criminally, she had no behaviors as an adolescent or an adult. There is no history of criminal activity by Andrea and no antisocial personalities or attitudes. Biologically, there were signs of depression throughout the family. Although, there may be a hereditary factor for her criminal behavior (Foxe, 1945). Foxe also states, “Over the past fifty years there have been psychiatrists, psychologists, and sociologists study early childhood environment in the formation of adult illnesses.” Her early childhood is suggestive of her adult psychosis and criminal behavior.
Andrea married Russell “Rusty” Yates on April 17, 1993. They had five children together: Noah (February 26, 1994 – June 20, 2001); John (December 15 – June 20, 2001); Paul (September 13, 1997 – June 20, 2001); Luke (February 15, 1999 – June 20, 2001); and Mary (November 30, 2000 – June 20, 2001).
The family dynamics was very complicated and filled with children, mental illness, and frenzied religious beliefs. Fragmented clinical care and inadequate insurance also played a significant role the family tragedy (McLellan, 2006). Andrea was home-schooling the children. This obviously meant she was at home daily, with the stress of keeping a house, taking care of the children, and the education of the children. Rusty worked at NASA and was gone during the weekdays. Andrea’s best friend, Deborah Holmes, reported in an interview that “Andrea talked to Rusty about her mental illness… but instead of seeking treatment for her… Rusty bolstered Andrea’s belief that she was probably being influenced by demons” (Gesalman, 2002, p. 139).
There were several medications and admissions to hospitals over the years to help Andrea. Mental illness was always in the foreground, including post-partum depression. After the birth of her first child she began hallucinating that involved stabbing. After the birth of her fourth child, she attempted suicide. She overdosed on Trazodone and was admitted to Methodist Hospital psychiatric unit and diagnosed with major depressive disorder. In July, she was admitted to Memorial Spring Shadows Glen for psychiatric treatment and tried to kill herself with a knife. She was treated as a patient and later as an outpatient. She was also prescribed Haldol and Andrea believed she was given “truth serum” that caused her to lose control of herself (McLellan, 2006). In 2001, she was admitted twice to Devereux Texas Treatment Network for her mental illness. There she was prescribed strong anti-psychotic medications.
A post-natal disorder can range from a short-term feeling called “baby blues” to long-term depression to psychosis. Depression affects 10%-15% of women after childbirth while psychosis affects 1 to 2 women per 1000 new mothers (McLellan, 2006). Eileen Meier (2002) noted that postpartum depression can be genetic. Infanticide is closely associated with postpartum psychotic episodes followed by commands to kill the infant. This could occur with or without delusions or hallucinations. Meier (2002) states, “If a woman has a postpartum episode with psychotic features, her risk of recurrence is 30%-50% with each delivery.
Andrea and Rusty had some unorthodox religious beliefs. She was raised Catholic and he was raised Methodist. They were not members of any local church, yet they hosted a Bible study group in the home three nights a week (McLellan, 2006). They had an encounter and became followers of a preacher named Michael Woroniecki. His rhetoric included proclamations that the parents were responsible for the salvation of their children or they should “perish in hellfire.” He also spoke of parents committing suicide rather than cause their children to go to hell. This type of expression, associated with her mental illness and postpartum depression may have led to the crime.
Crime and Trial
On June 20, 2001, Andrea drowned all five of her children. She was indicted for capital murder. Her trial began seven months later in February. She pled not guilty by reason of insanity at her trial (A New Trial, 2005). In March, 2002, a jury convicted her of capital murder and sentenced her to life in prison. Her sentence was overturned on appeal after finding that a witness for the prosecution provided false testimony in the original trial (Newman, 2006). She was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 2006. She was initially committed to North Texas State Hospital-Vernon Campus, a maximum-security hospital. She was later sent to Kerrville State Hospital in Kerrville, Texas.
This case does not appear to be one where the offender, Andrea Yates, has or previously had, any of the traits a life-course criminal holds. She does not appear to be psychopathic or have any antisocial personality traits. There were no substance abuse or alcohol abuse associated with her illness. Due to her mental illness and postpartum psychosis, she believed there was a reward for her conduct; her mental illness allowed her to complete the act because the children would be safe from Satan. The couple did not receive any type of conventional therapy or counseling.
Heredity and genetics may have been significant in her mental health. An unsupportive marriage, postpartum depression and psychosis, improper medication or lack of medication, and improper religious beliefs are important factors in her crime. Any interventions applied to her mental illness were inadequate or non-existent. There appeared to be a parent-child bond leading up to the crime. There was no interruption between Andrea and the children that would disrupt the relationship.
A New Trial for Andrea Yates. (2005). People, 64(22), 247.
Foxe, A. N. (1945). HEREDITY AND CRIME. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (08852731), 36(1), 11-16.
Gesalman, A. (2002). Spreading the blame in the Yates case. Newsweek, 139(13), 6.
McLellan, F. (2006). Mental health and justice: The case of Andrea Yates. Lancet, 368(9551), 1951-1954. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69789-4.
Meier, E. (2002). Andrea Yates: Where Did We Go Wrong?. Pediatric Nursing, 28(3), 296-299.
Newman, M. (2006, July 26). Yates found not guilty by reason of insanity. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/26/us/26cnd-yates.html