Today Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the drownings of her five children in 2001. She will be committed to a state mental hospital. Under Texas law, as I understand it, she cannot be released without a court order. As sick as she is, I doubt she will ever be released.
I’m going to repeat something I wrote awhile back about Yates —
I followed the Andrea Yates trial closely, and came to the conclusion that Texas is not only like a whole ‘nother country. It’s also stuck in a whole ‘nother century, sometime in the Dark Ages. The Texas justice system does not recognize brain disease; to them, insanity is a character flaw, or maybe devil possession.
The early news stories about Andrea Yates called her illness “postpartum depression,” but the truth is that she was a five-alarm schizophrenic. She had been sinking deeper and deeper into psychosis for several years, had attempted suicide, and had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. In the months before the killings, one of her friends was so alarmed at her behavior she was keeping notes.
Two weeks before she killed her children, a bleeping incompetent psychiatrist took her off the antipsychotic meds — cold turkey — that had propped her up and kept her functional. A couple of days before she killed her children, her husband Randy took her back to this psychiatrist and begged him to put her back on her meds; the doc refused.
Once in county jail, the psychiatric staff proclaimed she was the most psychotic inmate they had ever seen. Several of the prison psychologists and psychiatrists — people who worked with her for many weeks — testified at trial that Yates was massively delusional. A prominent neuropsychiatrist tested her and diagnosed severe schizophrenia, noting major frontal lobe impairment. During her trial, Yates had to be drugged into catatonia so she could sit in her seat and not try to catch flies with her tongue.
The jury was told, over and over, that Yates had a disease of the brain. They were not told that, if found not guilty by reason of insanity, Yates would not have gone free. The court would have ordered her to be hospitalized, not to be released without another court order.
The prosecutors trotted out two primary witnesses. One was the psychiatrist who had taken her off her meds and who would have been charged with murder if I’d had anything to say about it. He said he saw no sign of psychosis in Yates. One suspects this guy couldn’t find shit in an outhouse.
The other witness was a paid expert psychiatrist who is also a consultant for “Law and Order.” He said that Yates had gotten the idea for killing her children from a “Law and Order” episode. Later it was determined that there was no such episode; it had been scripted but never produced.
After several weeks of testimony, the jury took all of four hours to find Yates guilty of murder. They decided she couldn’t have been crazy because she had called 911 to report the childrens’ deaths. Yes, this makes sense. A crazy person would have made up some story about intruders to avoid punishment.
This case should have never gone to trial at all. The taxpayers of Texas paid millions of dollars just so some hotshot prosecutors could get their names in the papers. Finally, the second jury got it right.
The Houston Chronicle has been doing excellent reporting on the Yates killings and the trials. You can start here and go back to the beginning.
Update: I’m listening to some attorney, Susan Filan, on Countdown saying that Yates got a “pass.” Filan doesn’t even have the basic facts right. She keeps saying Yates had postpartum depression; no, she had postpartum psychosis. Way different. She said Yates voluntarily stopped taking her meds. No, her psychiatrist took her off her meds, cold turkey, two weeks before the killings. Filan doesn’t understand psychosis. The fact that Yates waited until her husband had left for work to kill the children; the fact that she called police after; doesn’t mean she wasn’t acting in a psychotic state. Psychotics often can organize themselves and carry out plans. But they do what they do because they aren’t perceiving reality.
I’m really disappointed that Countdown didn’t have someone who actually knows something about the case to talk about it.