I always find it difficult to read articles about Andrea and Rusty Yates and their children. This is no exception.
It's been almost three years since [Andrea] drowned the boys and 6-month-old Mary in the bathtub in their home. Interviews with people close to the convicted murderer reveal that her life has become a hazy blend of grief, tedium, mental illness. Rusty says he feels as if he's imprisoned, too.
Supporters say she should be detained in a psychiatric hospital, not a prison.
Those are fighting words in Houston, usually comfortable with its Wild West approach to crime and criminals. The Yates case, however, is different. Defense lawyers are pushing for a new trial, the case still is a cause célèbre among mental health advocates, and local debate is as divisive as ever.
One camp sees Andrea, 39, as a cold-blooded murderer. What could be worse, they ask, than a mother who holds her children, one by one, facedown in a tub until they quit struggling? She deserves her life sentence, they say.
Kaylynn Williford, one of the assistant district attorneys who prosecuted the case, thinks Yates deserves to be executed.
"If Andrea Yates had been a man, the public reaction would have been very different. Here were five beautiful children who didn't get a chance to grow up, five beautiful children who didn't want to die. Think about the fear those children went through at the hands of their mother -- the one person they expected to defend them."
Second, I continue to hold our DA's office in contempt for their treatment of Andrea Yates. If this woman isn't mentally ill, then the concept has no meaning. Justice isn't only about maximizing punishment.
[The possibility that] all Houstonians bear some responsibility for Yates' crimes is discussed in Suzanne O'Malley's new book, Are You There Alone? -- The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates.
The book was a sore point with some of Andrea's family members. Rusty Yates said he has found a few errors but generally is satisfied with O'Malley's work.
Small wonder, Andrea's immediate family thinks. Rusty, 39, is painted in a flattering light -- devoted husband, devoted father, devoted nurse to Andrea.
The Kennedy family believes Rusty and his decisions about how they would live are at least partly responsible for Andrea's downfall. Rusty was the one who met traveling evangelist Michael Woroniecki, admired his message and introduced him to Andrea. Though the two men have had a falling out, it's widely believed that the itinerant preacher inadvertently supplied Andrea with the framework for her psychotic delusions.
She told her doctors she believed Satan lived within her, her children were going to hell and she had to kill them while they were young so God would accept them in heaven.
Rusty, the leader and authority figure in the Yates household, is commonly blamed for other decisions -- such as to home-school the children or live in a converted bus -- that made life more difficult for Andrea.
At times Rusty is bitter about the criticism he has received from near and far. He was a devoted nurse. He desperately wanted his wife to get well. Early on, he was ignorant about her mental health problems, but most Americans are slow to recognize the signs and symptoms. He tried to work and juggle his responsibilities to Andrea and the children. That he couldn't do everything and be everywhere was no surprise.
Incompetent doctors, insurance companies more concerned about the size of the bill than the quality of treatment, a legal system seeking an eye for an eye -- those are the villains in the Andrea Yates story, he said, not him.
Publicly, the Kennedy and Yates families try to maintain a united front for Andrea's sake.
While Rusty throws himself into his job at NASA, he ponders what to do with his personal life. He tries to get organized. He works on his Web site.
A while back, Yates sold the family Suburban and bought a Suburu. He moved into an apartment and fixed up the family home on Beachcomber to sell.
It's still on the market. He says, wistfully, that another family may buy it and establish happy memories there.
He wants to be involved in the Yates Children Memorial Fund for Women's Mental Health Education, launched by the Mental Health Association of Houston and [defense attorney George] Parnham after the trial. The idea, Rusty said, is to educate new mothers about postpartum illnesses and to make sure his babies didn't die in vain.
"What happened in my family will always be with me and associated with me," Rusty said. "But I would like people to know we had a great family. I'd like people to know something good can come from all this, and I want to be a part of it."