A Brief History
On June 20, 2001, a Texas mother of 5, former high school valedictorian and swim team captain, decided she had to save her children from Satan. Her solution to the “problem” was to drown all 5 of the unfortunate youngsters in the family bathtub.
Almost 37 years old at the time of the tragedy, Andrea Yates suffered from bulimia and depression as a teen despite her academic and athletic success. Going to nursing school and getting a job as an RN, Yates seemed on course to have a decent life when she married in 1993. She and her husband were resolved to “have as many babies as nature allowed.”
Apparently 4 was 1 too many, as Yates became severely depressed with postpartum depression and psychosis. After a couple of suicide attempts her psychiatrist strongly recommended that she have no further children. As often happens, Yates did not follow the doctor’s advice, stopped taking her medicine and had another baby in November of 2000. When her father died in March of 2001 she got worse. Self mutilation, obsessive reading of the Bible, and refusal to feed her youngest child meant a trip to the hospital for Andrea.
Left alone with the children despite strict orders from the doctor to be watched at all times, Yates filled the bathtub and drowned 3 of her children and placed them on their beds. She then drowned the youngest, and had to chase the oldest (age 7) before dragging him to the tub and also drowning him. She then called the police and her husband, admitting the murders.
Convicted of capital murder X 5, Yates was sentenced to life in prison, but was granted a retrial because of the admitted false testimony of a prosecution psychiatrist who had testified that the television show Law & Order aired an episode where a mother drowned her kids and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. There was no such episode. (Note: If you think people do not get convicted because of prosecutorial misconduct, here is your proof that it happens.)
In the second trial Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the trials testimony was given about her obsessive religious views and the influence of an extremist preacher on her thinking. Yates later claimed that Satan had made her children disobedient and that they were “doomed to perish in the fires of Hell.”
Much debate about the role of anti-depressant medicines was generated by this case. Question for students (and subscribers): Did the use of certain medicine and the disuse of another cause the murders? The issue is still not settled. Do you think anti-depressant medicines can make a person homicidal or suicidal? After all, Andrea was suicidal and psychotic before taking the medicine. Tell us what you think in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
O’Malley, Suzanne. Are You There Alone?: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates. Simon & Schuster, 2004.