Andrea Pia Yates (née Kennedy; born July 2, 1964) is a former resident of Houston, Texas, who confessed to drowning her five children in their bathtub on June 20, 2001.
She had been suffering for some time from very severe postpartum depression, postpartum psychosis and schizophrenia. During her trial, she was represented by Houston criminal defense attorney George Parnham. Chuck Rosenthal, the district attorney in Harris County, asked for the death penalty in her 2002 trial. Her case placed the M'Naghten rules, along with the irresistible impulse test, a legal test for sanity, under close public scrutiny in the United States. She was convicted of capital murder, but the jury refused the death penalty option. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years. The verdict was overturned on appeal, in light of false testimony by one of the expert psychiatric witnesses.
On July 26, 2006, a Texas jury in her retrial found that Yates was not guilty by reason of insanity. She was consequently committed by the court to the North Texas State Hospital, Vernon Campus, a high-security mental health facility in Vernon, where she received medical treatment and was a roommate of Dena Schlosser, another woman who committed infanticide by killing her infant daughter. In January 2007, she was moved to Kerrville State Hospital, a low-security state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.
Andrea Yates was born in Houston, Texas. She is the youngest of five children to Jutta Karin Koehler, a German immigrant, and Andrew Emmett Kennedy, whose parents were born in Ireland. Yates was raised in a Catholic household.
She graduated from Milby High School, in Houston, Texas, in 1982. She was the class valedictorian, 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. From 1986 until 1994, she worked as a registered nurse at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
In the summer of 1989, she met Russell "Rusty" Yates at the Sunscape Apartments in Houston, Texas, two months her junior. They soon moved in together and were married on April 17, 1993, and they announced that they "would seek to have as many babies as nature allowed". Afterwards, they bought a four-bedroom house in the town of Friendswood. In February 1994, the couple's first child, a son named Noah, was born. Shortly thereafter, Rusty accepted a job offer in Florida, so the family relocated to a small trailer in Seminole. By the birth of their third son, Paul, they settled back to Houston and purchased a GMC motor home.
Following the birth of their fourth son, Luke, Andrea became depressed. The media alleged that her condition was influenced by the extremist sermons of Michael Peter Woroniecki, the preacher who sold them their bus. Her family was concerned by the way that she was so captivated by the minister’s words.
On June 16, 1999, Rusty found Andrea shaking and chewing her fingers. The next day, she attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on pills. She was admitted to the hospital, and prescribed antidepressants. Soon after her release, she begged her husband to let her die as she held a knife up to her neck. Once again hospitalized, she was given a mixture of medications including Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug. Her condition improved immediately, and she was prescribed it on her release. After that, Rusty moved the family into a small house for the sake of her health. Andrea appeared temporarily to stabilise.
In July 1999, she succumbed to a nervous breakdown, which culminated in two suicide attempts and two psychiatric hospitalizations that summer. She was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis.
Her first psychiatrist, Dr. Eileen Starbranch, testified that she urged the couple not to have more children, as it would "guarantee future psychotic depression". They conceived their fifth and final child approximately 7 weeks after her discharge. She stopped taking the Haldol in March 2000 and gave birth to daughter Mary on November 30 of that year. She seemed to be coping well until the death of her father on March 12, 2001.
She then stopped taking medication, mutilated herself, and read the Bible feverishly. She also stopped feeding her youngest child, Mary. Yates became so incapacitated that she required immediate hospitalization.
On April 1, 2001 she came under the care of Dr. Mohammed Saeed. She was treated and released. On May 3, 2001, she degenerated back into a "near catatonic" state and drew a bath in the middle of the day; she would later confess to police that she had planned to drown the children that day, but had decided against doing it then. She was hospitalized the next day after a scheduled doctor visit; her psychiatrist determined she was probably suicidal and had filled the tub to drown herself.
Yates continued under Dr. Saeed's care until June 20, 2001, when Rusty left for work, leaving her alone to watch the children against Dr. Saeed's instructions to supervise her around the clock. Rusty's mother, Dora Yates, had been scheduled by him to arrive an hour later to take over for her. In the space of that hour, she drowned all five children. She started with the youngest boys, and after drowning them in her bathtub, laid them in her bed. She then drowned Mary, whom she left floating in the tub. Her oldest son, Noah, came in and asked what was wrong with Mary. He then ran, but she soon caught up with him and drowned him. She then left him floating in the tub and laid Mary in her brothers' arms. Afterwards, she called the police. Then she called Rusty, saying only “It’s time” repeatedly.
Yates confessed to drowning her children. She told Dr. Michael Welner that she waited for Rusty to leave for work that morning before filling the bathtub because she knew he would have prevented her from harming the children. After the killings, police found the family dog locked up; Rusty advised Welner that it had normally been allowed to run free, and was so when he had left the house that morning, leading the psychiatrist to conclude that she locked it in a cage to prevent it from interfering with her killing the children one by one.
Although the defense's expert testimony agreed that Yates was psychotic, Texas law requires that, in order to successfully assert the insanity defense, the defendant must prove that he or she could not discern right from wrong at the time of the crime. In March 2002, a jury rejected the insanity defense and found her guilty. Although the prosecution had sought the death penalty, the jury refused that option. The trial court sentenced her to life imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice with eligibility for parole in 40 years.
On January 6, 2005, a Texas Court of Appeals reversed the convictions, because California psychiatrist and prosecution witness Dr. Park Dietz admitted he had given materially false testimony during the trial. Dietz stated that shortly before the killings, an episode of Law & Order had aired featuring a woman who drowned her children and was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity. Author Suzanne O'Malley, who was covering the trial for Oprah magazine and had previously been a writer for Law & Order, immediately reported that no such episode existed; the appellate court held that the jury may have been influenced by his false testimony and that thus a new trial would be necessary.
On January 9, 2006, Yates again entered pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity. On February 1, 2006, she was granted release on bail on the condition that she be admitted to a mental health treatment facility.
On July 26, 2006, after three days of deliberations, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity, as defined by the state of Texas. She was thereafter committed to the North Texas State Hospital - Vernon Campus. In January 2007, Yates was moved to a low security state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.
Although psychiatrists for both the Texas State prosecutors and Yates' defense lawyers agreed that she was severely mentally ill with one of several psychotic diseases at the time she killed her children, the state of Texas asserted that she was by legal definition aware enough to judge her actions as right or wrong despite her mental defect. The prosecution further implied spousal-revenge as motive for the killings, despite the conclusion of defense experts that there was no evidence to support such a motive. Although the original jury believed she was legally aware of her actions, they disagreed that her motive was spousal-revenge. The jury in 2006 completely disagreed with the prosecution's assertions and her earlier conviction from 2002 was overturned.
Andrea was bulimic during her teenage years. She also suffered from depression and, at the age of seventeen, spoke to a friend about suicide.
While in prison, Andrea stated she had considered killing the children for two years, adding that they thought she was not a good mother and claimed her sons were developing improperly. She told her 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." She also told her jail psychiatrist that Satan influenced her children and made them more disobedient.