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The Andrea Yates trial

I’ve avoided commenting on Houston’s other big story, mostly because I’m conflicted about it. What Andrea Yates did was horrible, but I don’t believe that killing her is in the interests of justice.

I think we can all agree that Andrea Yates is ill. Her attorneys are going for an insanity defense, but this is a tall order. According to Texas law, you must “at the time of the conduct charged…not know that [your] conduct was wrong”. However sick Yates is and was, revelations that she considered using a knife to kill her children don’t make it easy to conclude that she didn’t know what she was doing at the time.

I think what really bothers me about this whole thing is how polarized discussion of it has been from the beginning. Wanting to understand how this could happen and how we could prevent it from happening again does not mean wanting to absolve Andrea Yates from all blame. Questioning the appropriateness of the death penalty in this case does not mean that one wants to see Yates walk out of the courtroom with her freedom and a lifetime supply of Zoloft.

There’s a difference between what Andrea Yates did and what, say, Susan Smith did, and it’s not in the number of dead children. Ask yourself this question: If Yates’ erratic and ultimately lethal behavior had been caused by a brain tumor, would you feel differently about her? If the answer is yes, then why is postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia not enough to mitigate your emotions?

In The New Republic, Michelle Cottle proposes sterilizing Andrea Yates as part of her sentence. This is a can of worms in a tar baby on a slippery slope, but it’s hard to argue that another Yates pregnancy would be in any way a good thing. I’m having a hard time resisting the urge to say “And while you’re at it, let’s fix Rusty Yates, too.”

Like I said, I’m conflicted. I’m sure glad I wasn’t called to be on this jury, though I daresay they’d have voir-dired my butt out of there. It will be interesting to see what the jurors have to say after the trial, regardless of the verdict.

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  1. Lori Nelms says:

    I personally don’t agree that she shouldn’t get the death penalty. I say this because I have two little boys of my own and I can’t ever imagine or even comprehend something like that. My son is the same age as Noah was when his mom killed him and my sons name is also Noah so all of this kind of hit me hard. The kids didn’t get the option to live or die and I know some people argue that she was sick. That may well be but, she is the one who stopped taking her medicine. People want to point fingers at her husband and say its his fault she stopped taking her meds. This to me was a cheap shot. Not only had this poor guy just lost all his kids but people had to make look like he needed to take blame for some of it. Andrea, is a grown adult and didn’t need to have her husband making sure she was taking it.
    I’m very aggraveted that they are even considering giving her a retrial. Personally, I don’t think there should’ve been on the first time. They should’ve just given her the death penalty! The only good thing that I see coming out of this tragedy is that the kids are up in heaven and are so much better off than we are here, and not here with some fruit loop for a mother. She needs to take responsibility for her actions. This letter sounds harsh and I’m not one to voice my opinion, but this crime, there is no justifying it.

  2. Eric W. says:

    In response to Lori Nelms’ posting, I am sure glad she and many people I hear call into talk radio shows did not set up or serve on a bench of our legal system.

    Of course Andrea Yates deserves a re-trial. Something was wrong with the first trial, so they need to re-do it and do it right. The media is blowing this thing so far out of kilter and sensationalizing it beyond belief. Andrea will not walk the streets. Currently she will remain in the institution; that much is agreed upon by both sides.

    What she did was terrible. So terrible that I can not imagine anyone, let alone a mother doing. Imagine chasing 5 people (kids or not) around, catching them and killing them. Not healthy by any stretch. However, that being said, if we are going to put here away for life, or take here life, we need to make sure justice is served correctly and not rush off and hang people. I understand it is costly, but that is the price you pay to live in our still great country.

  3. Amber says:

    All of you are forgetting the fact that she did in fact committed these crimes, she confessed to doing so. So insane or not she is GUILTY!!! So they need to find her guilty, then handle her psychotic issue. She committed these crimes, we the jury find her guilty. Now we know she had to be insane to do what she did, so she needs to be sentenced to life in a psychiatric hospital, without the possiblity of parole. I know exactly what would happen if she got out or was(Cured).
    She may be okay for a while, but she would finally realize what she had done and who’s to say she really wouldn’t go crazy and do something else. I personally am tired of our judicial system failing us. Why not let another nut loose on the streets, we have so many they would probably blend in well. The only just thing would be to let someone (say a mother of 5 children)drown Andrea Yates in a bathtub and then claim that hearing what this women and mother did to her children made them temporarily insane and they in turn committed murder, and as we all know, they could get away with it.

  4. SAM says:

    I remember when the incident happened 5 years ago, my first thought was of the children and what they must have been thinking at that time. Then as details of her illness and episodes leading up to this event began to emerge, I thought Rusty Yates should have been arrested also that day. The video shown with Andrea and her new baby girl, surrounded by her other children in the hospital room, clearly shows (in my opinion)a woman who deeply loved her children and the excitement of a new life. Obviously after this, life took a terrible, fateful turn in Andrea’s mind. Who’s to say the effect of the “Baby Blues” on a woman’s mind? Unless you have walked in these shoes, how do you know the pain and confusion that can arise? I suffer from depression and know about the dark places the mind can go. I am now on medication and it has helped tremendiously. If Andrea’s husband had made sure she got the proper treatment, those 5 beautiful kids would be alive today. Rusty Yates knew his wife was sick and that continuing to have children was not safe. I believe his actions leading up to the drownings were cause for great question. Andrea was an emotionally abused woman by her husband and he exploited her illness by continuing to insist that she stay home with the five children, home school them, not have many friends around her, etc. The moment I saw Rusty Yates on TV 5 years ago, he gave me the creeps. I thought, why isn’t this man consumed with emotion and grief? Why didn’t authorities question his lack of emotion and surprise at what had happened? I also guessed that he would divorce and marry again pretty quickly after she was found guilty the first time around. Of course, what she did was terribly wrong and beyond comprehension – but an emotionally abusive husband can drive a woman to do unimaginable desperate things. She is extremely ill and I cried today when the “Not Guilty By Insanity” verdict was read. Finally, a group of 12 individuals, with minds of their own, took the time to logically think this case through and voted with their heart and common sense. Some Texas laws are very misconstrued – the Insanity defense is just one of many. My next comment, someone needs to investigate the prosecutors office on why my tax dollars – $200,000 worth, was spent on a slick California doctor brought in to evaluate Andrea after 5 years had passed. This was done while Harris County phychiatrists who evaluated her immediately after the drownings stated she was insane. This would not have cost the state anything. Why does the State of Texas allow prosecutors to spend funds like this to pursue a witch hunt and look for the person who will say whatever the State wants, to win their case. This done rather than use the doctors who saw her first and knew her history. Makes no sense to me. I am glad Andrea will finally get the help she needs and I believe those 5 kids were watching from above today and who knows, perhaps they had a hand in what happened with the verdict (you never know). Five angels now know their mom will be cared for and treated for her illness,like she should have been years ago.

  5. […] children in their bathtub. I’ve blogged about her many times since first posting about her trial and conviction, which was later overturned on the grounds that an expert witness for the […]