Tiny vic­tims of Mum’s killing hour

Could any mother in her right mind mur­der her chil­dren?

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It was a scene as tragic as it was har­row­ing.

On the morn­ing of 20 June 2001, Rusty Yates went to work, leav­ing his wife An­drea, then 36, and their five kids hav­ing breakfast.

As soon as he left, An­drea turned on the bath taps. She had an hour till her mother-in-law ar­rived. Start­ing with Paul, 3, she took the chil­dren, one by one, to the bath­room.

And, there, she calmly drowned them in the bath.

After Paul, she killed John, 5, then Luke, 2. Then she put them on her bed, cov­ered in a sheet. As she was drown­ing Mary, 6 months, her el­dest, Noah, then 7, wan­dered in.

‘What’s wrong with Mary?’ he asked, spot­ting his baby sis­ter float­ing in the bath.

Sob­bing of­fi­cers

Sens­ing dan­ger, he ran. An­drea dragged him back to the tub and drowned him.

Noah’s body was left float­ing in the bath, while Mary was placed in the arms of her other broth­ers.

An­drea then called the emer­gency ser­vices.

‘I’ve just killed my kids,’ she said.

And, as sob­bing po­lice of­fi­cers dis­cov­ered the aw­ful scene, there was no doubt what

An­drea had done. But why?

An­drea had grad­u­ated top of her class in 1982, was cap­tain of the swim­ming team. She’d be­gun work­ing as a nurse.

On their wed­ding day in April 1993, An­drea and Rusty an­nounced plans to have ‘as many chil­dren as na­ture pro­vided’.

Noah ar­rived in Fe­bru­ary 1994, John in De­cem­ber 1995, and then Paul in Septem­ber 1997.

But, after Luke was born in Fe­bru­ary 1999, An­drea was de­pressed. She’d shake, chew her fin­gers. Ad­mit­ted to psy­chi­atric hospi­tal, she was di­ag­nosed with post­par­tum de­pres­sion and psy­chosis. An­drea was pre­scribed an­tide­pres­sants and even­tu­ally sent home. But she re­fused her med­i­ca­tion, self-harmed and ne­glected her ba­bies.

Turn­ing point

In July 1999, she was hos­pi­talised again – in a cata­tonic state for 10 days. After be­ing treated with anti-psy­chotic in­jec­tions, her con­di­tion im­proved. It seemed a turn­ing point.

Treated as an out­pa­tient,

An­drea re­turned to cook­ing, swim­ming – and she be­gan to dote on her chil­dren.

Yet, de­spite the doc­tors warn­ing an­other preg­nancy could bring on more psy­chotic be­hav­iour, An­drea had Mary in Novem­ber 2000.

At first, An­drea seemed to cope. But, sadly, after her fa­ther died in March 2001, her men­tal health spi­ralled.

She stopped tak­ing her med­i­ca­tion, re­fused to speak or drink liq­uids. She wouldn’t feed baby Mary. Wor­ried, Rusty ad­mit­ted her to a new hospi­tal.

On her re­lease, the doc­tors warned she shouldn’t be left alone with the kids. But, that June morn­ing, Rusty left An­drea un­su­per­vised for an hour, be­fore his mother was due to take over.

When the po­lice ar­rived at the fam­ily home in Hous­ton, Texas, An­drea was ar­rested for mur­der, and her trial be­gan in March 2002.

She pleaded not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity.

Giv­ing ev­i­dence for the de­fence, doc­tor Melissa Fer­gu­son, a psy­chi­a­trist who’d treated An­drea, said she was ‘one of the sick­est pa­tients I had ever seen’.

‘Zom­bie-like’

Dr Fer­gu­son said An­drea felt her chil­dren were ‘tainted and doomed’ to suf­fer in the fires of hell be­cause she was evil.

Dur­ing her con­fes­sion, of­fi­cers said she’d ap­peared ‘zom­bie-like’. She’d said she was a bad mother and the chil­dren were ‘not de­vel­op­ing cor­rectly’, so she needed to be pun­ished.

The Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner told the court the post­mortems in­di­cated the chil­dren had strug­gled, and marks left on Noah made it clear he’d fought back.

Dur­ing her con­fes­sion, An­drea ad­mit­ted chas­ing Noah around the house.

She’d also asked the po­lice of­fi­cers when her trial would be – clear ev­i­dence, the pros­e­cu­tion’s ex­pert psy­chi­a­trist said, that she knew what she’d done was wrong.

The psy­chi­a­trist, also a con­sul­tant on Law & Or­der, a TV drama An­drea watched, also sug­gested the idea for the killing may have come from a re­cently aired episode.

In it, a woman drowned her child and was ac­quit­ted of mur­der due to in­san­ity.

An­drea Yates was found guilty and jailed for life, to serve a min­i­mum of 40 years.

Later, it emerged no such episode of Law & Or­der ex­isted – the psy­chi­a­trist had been con­fused.

Based on this false tes­ti­mony, An­drea was granted a re­trial. In Jan­uary 2006, she again en­tered an in­san­ity plea.

‘We all agree that Mrs Yates is men­tally ill. That does not mean that she is in­sane,’ said the prose­cu­tor.

‘It will be plain from the ev­i­dence again that she did know ex­actly what she was do­ing.’

The de­fence de­tailed An­drea’s long his­tory of de­pres­sion.

‘She was act­ing un­der a se­vere delu­sion that, by drown­ing her kids, she was sav­ing her chil­dren from a last­ing damna­tion in hell,’ said her de­fence lawyer Ge­orge Parn­ham.

In the four years since her orig­i­nal con­vic­tion, An­drea’s men­tal health hadn’t im­proved. She was heav­ily med­i­cated, just to get through the trial.

Once again, it was put to the jury – were these the ac­tions of a des­per­ately sick mother, in the grip of post­par­tum psy­chosis?

Or a cal­cu­lat­ing woman us­ing men­tal ill­ness to get away with mur­der?

The jury found An­drea Yates not guilty by rea­son of in­san­ity. The ver­dict sparked in­ter­na­tional de­bate about men­tal health.

An­drea was moved from prison to a men­tal-health fa­cil­ity, where she re­mains to­day. The fa­cil­ity fo­cuses on treat­ment, not pun­ish­ment.

‘She’s where she needs to be,’ says her lawyer Ge­orge Parn­ham.

Yates spends her time watch­ing videos of her chil­dren, walk­ing around the gar­dens and do­ing arts and crafts.

Some of her art­work is sold through the fa­cil­ity’s shop and any money is put in a me­mo­rial fund that as­sists in screen­ing low­in­come women for men­tal-health is­sues.

In a 2015 in­ter­view, Oprah Win­frey asked Rusty Yates if he for­gives his ex-wife.

‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘For­give­ness kind of im­plies that I have ever re­ally blamed her. In some sense, I’ve never re­ally blamed her be­cause I’ve al­ways blamed her ill­ness.’

De­spite her case com­ing up for yearly re­view, as of Septem­ber 2016, Yates has never sought re­lease.

L-R: Luke, Paul, John, Noah and (in­set) Mary

The smil­ing fam­ily

An­drea and Rusty mar­ried in 1993

Ill­ness to blame? An­drea Yates

An­drea Yates ar­rives in court For­giv­ing: Dad Rusty

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