The Fine Line Between Victim And Villian: Concerning Andrea Yates

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Andrea Pia Kennedy, born in Hallsville, Texas on July 2, 1964, became the youngest of five children. It is alleged that Andrea suffered from Bulimia and Depression in her teenage years, and even confided in a friend thoughts of suicide. Despite this she graduated from Houston’s Milby High School as class valedictorian and went on to complete a pre-nursing program at Houston University, and graduated University of Texas School of Nursing. In summer of 1989 she met Russell “Rusty” Yates, at the Sunscape Apartments in Houston. They soon moved in together and were married on April 17, 1993 and Andrea Kennedy became the soon infamous Andrea Yates. The couple announced that they “would seek to have as many babies as nature allowed”, and bought a four-bedroom house in Friendswood. Her first child Noah was born in 1994, followed by three more sons John, Paul and Luke in the following years.

The condition known as Postpartum Psychosis is a rare mental illness which affects 0.1 – 0.2% of child bearing woman in the United States each year. Mothers suffering from Postpartum Psychosis are plagued by an inability to properly bond with her child, delusions, hallucinations, hyperactivity, insomnia, sluggishness, paranoia, mood swings, and difficulty communicating. Five percent of these cases lead to suicide and four percent result in the devastating act of infanticide. The on set of Postpartum psychosis is often sudden, talking hold usually within the first two weeks. Though the condition is considered to be temporary and treatable, many agree that it should be viewed as a medical emergency due to the potential detrimental repercussions.

Following her son Luke’s birth in 1999, Andrea began to struggle with depression. On June 16, 1999 her husband Rusty says to have found Andrea shaking and chewing her fingers. The following day on June 17 Andrea attempted suicide for the first time by overdosing on the antidepressant medication Trazadone. This episode caused her to be hospitalized where she was diagnosed with “a major depressive disorder” and put on antidepressant medications. Shortly after her release, on July 21 Andrea yet again attempted suicide, this time with a knife, begging her husband to let her die. Andrea was admitted to Memorial Spring Shadows Glen Hospital and treated as an inpatient. In July of 1999 Andrea was diagnosed with Postpartum Psychosis and prescribed the anti-psychotic medication Haldol Her condition began to improve immediately with the help of the new medication and she appeared to stabilize.

Dr. Eileen Starbranch, Andrea’s first psychiatrist testified that she urged the couple against having any more children, as it would “guarantee future psychotic depression”. Despite this warning, approximately 7 weeks after Yate’s discharge the family’s fifth and final child was conceived. Rusty continued to insist on having as many children as possible with his clearly ill wife. As well, he continued to have them be home schooled. Yate’s stopped taking her Haldol, and gave birth to her daughter Mary Yates in May of 2001. She appeared to be coping surprisingly well until the death of her father , Andrew Kennedy on March 12.

After this Yates stopped taking her medications, and began harming herself, and studying the Bible feverishly – led by the preaching’s of the families spiritual mentor Michael Woroniecki. The extremist preacher became close to the family. However, he began to tell Andrea that she was evil and that her children were damned. At this time she stopped feeding her youngest daughter Mary and became so incapacitated that she was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment. Andrea told her jail psychiatrist: “It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren’t righteous,”. In April of 2001, she was put under the care of Dr. Mohammed Saeed, treated, and released again. On the third day of the following month Andrea deteriorated back to a “near catatonic” state, and drew a bath in the middle of the day. Following a doctor’s appointment the next day Yates was admitted to the hospital yet again. Her psychiatrist determined her to be suicidal and suggested that she had likely filled the tub with the intention of drowning herself. Yates would later admit to police that she had contemplated drowning her children that day but had not went through with it. Despite her emotional instability, Dr. Saeed discontinued Andrea’s prescription for Haldol, the medication which had appeared to lead to improvement of her mental state earlier that year.

On June 20, 2001 Rusty Yates, Andrea’s husband left for work, leaving Andrea to supervise the children until his mother was scheduled to arrive an hour later. Russel did this despite Dr. Saeed’s instructions which required ’round the clock supervision. In the span of that hour, Andrea Yates drew a bath and one by one drowned each of her five children. She began by drowning John, Paul, and Luke before tucking them into her bed. She then proceeded to take the lives of 6 month old Mary, and her oldest son Noah. She then called the police, requesting an officer, but refusing to say why. Afterwards she immediately called her husband to tell him something was wrong with the children.

On July 30, 2001 Andrea Yates was charged with Capital Murder. Early reports say that she’d planned on pleading guilty – wanting to be punished for her actions – however when brought to trial she plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Unfortunately, despite the defenses expert testimony which agree that Yates suffered from psychosis, Texas law requires evidence that the defendant could not discern right from wrong at the time of the offense. So, in March 2002 the jury found Andrea Yates guilty, refusing to accept the insanity defense. However the jury rejected the prosecution’s suggestion for the death penalty and she was sentence instead to life in prison, with the possibility for a parole hearing after serving 40 years. On January 6, 2006 a false testimony resulted in a reversal of her convictions and the need for a retrial. On January 9, Andrea again plead not guilty by reason of insanity and one month later on February first was granted release on a $200,000 bail , on the condition the she be admitted to a mental health facility for treatment. Finally, on July 26 of the same year Yates was officially found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to low security mental hospital, North Texas State Hospital.

Still, it remains uncertain just what led Andrea Yates, to the breaking point of finally killing her children. She later told psychiatrists that “they were doomed to perish in the fires of hell,” and that “They stumbled because [she] was evil. The way [she] was raising them they could never be saved”. This as well as her close affiliation with Michael Woroniecki led many to believe that religious influences had much to do with the escalation of her psychosis. However, Michael, as well as Rusty refuse this as a possibility. Rusty Yates announced rather that his family had been “let down by the mental health system”, likely referencing Andrea’s insufficient and unsteady mental health care. An unfortunately plausible explanation given the families circumstances. However, the exact cause is still yet to be clearly identified and confirmed. Ultimately and unfortunately, Andrea Yates was plagued by mental illness throughout the majority of her life, and in a fit of psychosis committed what is considered one of the worst possible human acts. She murdered her five young children.

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