March 19, 2006
As the Yates retrial is set to start

Couple of worthwhile articles on the imminent Andrea Yates retrial in the Chron today. First, on why the insanity defense is both a terribly blunt instrument as well as a crapshoot.

Between 2001 and 2004, four Texas women became famous — notorious, actually — for the deaths they inflicted on their children. Two opted for drowning, one grabbed a knife and the other used a heavy rock.

But their choice of method was less significant than the method in their madness. All were convinced they were doing right by their children, according to their attorneys. So intense was their disturbed mental state that it was capable of overpowering the strongest, most basic human instinct.

In the aftermath of their horrific acts, the most pertinent question was not the most obvious one. Why they did it was not really answerable except in the vaguest of ways: They're insane. Of greater urgency was the one thrown in the lap of the legal system: What to do with them?

In each case, prosecutors offered the same response: Try them, convict them, send them to prison — save for the case of Andrea Yates, where they chose the extreme option of attempting to have her executed. Even a Harris County jury would not agree to that, convicting her of capital murder and giving her a life sentence for drowning her children in the bathtub of their Clear Lake home.


Although they won a conviction in the Yates case, prosecutors have had less luck with the others. Deanna Laney, who bludgeoned two sons to death outside of their Tyler home in 2003, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Lisa Diaz of Plano, who drowned her two daughters later that year, received the same verdict. Last month, Dena Schlosser's trial ended in a hung jury, with 11 voting for acquittal. Prosecutors intend to retry Schlosser, also from Plano, who cut off her infant daughter's arms in 2004.

"The fact that you have different results in these cases is itself a problem," said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has written about the insanity defense. "I've yet to meet anyone who seriously argues Andrea Yates was not insane. But by sticking to a rigid standard of only knowing right and wrong, you exclude the most common forms of insanity: people responding to evil voices."

Also, the enigma of Rusty Yates. I don't know the man, but I feel about him more or less as his friend Bob Holmes does.

Even after [Rusty] divorced [Andrea] last year, he continued a campaign to get her out of prison and into treatment. But some say that kind of support was hard to see before the children's deaths.

"You've got a pre-June 20th Rusty and a post-June 20th Rusty," said Bob Holmes, who met Yates in 1989, when the couple was dating.

Holmes insists that Rusty Yates, vilified on Web sites and radio and TV talk shows, "isn't a monster."

But Holmes is counted among those who knew the couple and who question the way he dealt with his wife's mental illness, which seemed to materialize in their marriage after the birth of their fourth child, Luke.

"Did he lose his children? Yes. Do I feel bad for him? Absolutely," said Holmes, who along with his wife, Debbie, met then-Andrea Kennedy 20 years ago. "But he's the one person who could have stopped it."

As I recall (not mentioned in this story), it was at Rusty's insistence that Andrea be taken off the meds that she was on for her illness after Luke's birth so she could get pregnant again. If there's one single thing that Yates should be faulted for, that's it.

Meet the new Mrs. Yates. From the picture, she's an attractive woman. Hope she knows what she's getting into.

Hey, Dwight! Will anyone be liveblogging the Yates trial as they've been the Lay/Skilling trial? I think that would be very informative if so. Just my opinion.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 19, 2006 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

Mmmm. Her dress was both white and backless - at a fundy C of C wedding.

Posted by: dksbook on March 19, 2006 4:47 PM

Interesting comments by Bob Holmes which only further the belief by many that Russell Yates should have been charged in the matter - why he wasn't has never really been explained by the Harris County District Attorney's Office. The explanation might be the curious "chattel law" mentality at work in that office which relegates women in many cases to mere "property" of the husband. When you look closely at the history of the Yates family, it is not too far off the mark to say that in Russell Yates' mind, his wife's real crime was not murdering his children in a psychotic episode, but merely not "obeying" him. The way the Bible says she should have. And in the end, that may have been and may still be the attitude of the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

Without doubt the Yates case focused attention on the curious phenomenon of "religious exemption" which allows some to abuse and neglect family members including children on the basis of religious belief.

And no doubt the second trial will focus attention on it a second time.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on March 20, 2006 9:18 AM

I remember vividly the day I learned, along with the rest of the world, about Andrea Yates. Her story struck a chord in me, because of a very strong parallel in my own life.

You and Bob Holmes are corrrect: Russell Yates had a moral and ethical obligation to protect his children, even if he couldn't help his wife. The fact that he didn't, speaks volumes about his character.

Of course, any man who would embrace a religion which espouses the views about women that this one did, has problems to begin with, and Rusty's continued, unabated desire for his wife to bear him more children, even after her illness was clearly evident, shows that Andrea's problems began when she married a man who showed an ongoing lack of respect, concern and compassion for her health and well-being.

Posted by: Daleen Berry on March 20, 2006 9:51 AM

The difference in the other cases versus the Yates case is that the Harris County DAs office is more talented with these sorts of cases. And spent a TON more money.

I think the biggest difference in the second case is going to be the quality of Yates' expert this time. I can't remember the guy's name, but she is going to get this great Dr. who is going to testify pro bono in the case because he was so disturbed by the outcome.

Dietz's testimony gave all experts a bad name, and I can't believe how much taxpayers paid for testimony that was obviously made up for hire.

Posted by: Steph on March 20, 2006 10:22 AM

I don't have anywhere near all the facts in this case, and I really haven't had any strong opinions about it, but the wedding was all over the morning news shows here (Colorado) today, and I was surprised that I reacted to it at all. Given his history

why would a woman marry him?

Posted by: helliemae on March 20, 2006 10:47 AM

... any man who would embrace a religion which espouses the views about women that this one did, has problems to begin with....

The problem is that only adult converts truly "embrace" their religion as any sort of fully informed decision; most of us simply inherit a religion, along with all of its morally questionable tenets (the "proper role" of women, and the role of faith in medical or psychiatric care, in this case).

If Rusty had been an adherent of a less-popular religion with equally problematic tenets (say, Scientology), most of us would have no problem condemning the religion itself. But because his religion is a Christian denomination, we instead blame its adherent for believing in it!

Posted by: Mathwiz on March 21, 2006 4:43 PM