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Where Is Andrea Yates Now, More Than 20 Years After Drowning Her Children?
Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bathtub and was found not guilty by reason of insanity after the initial murder convictions were reversed.
On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates, a Texas mother of five who was struggling badly with mental illness, was briefly left alone with her children at their suburban Houston home. Tragedy followed, as she methodically drowned each of them in a bathtub, and her ensuing court case stoked a national conversation about postpartum mental health.
Yates confessed to the crime and was initially convicted of capital murder in 2002, though she was granted a retrial on appeal. In the second trial, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. More than two decades later, her then-husband Russell "Rusty" Yates continues to advocate for research into postpartum psychosis.
"But for her sickness, she would never, ever, ever would have harmed our children," Rusty recently told NewsNation’s Chris Cuomo of Andrea, whom he divorced in 2005.
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Rusty stated that in the months leading up to the deaths of their five children — Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months — his wife reported experiencing hallucinations and hearing voices.
"It’s much like having a dream or nightmare overlaid on reality so that a person sees things that aren’t real, hears voices that aren’t real, believes things to be true that aren’t true and they act on that," Rusty explained. "It’s every bit a part of their reality as everything else — they can’t distinguish between those thoughts and images and voices and anything else."
It was this illness, Rusty said, that resulted in their children's deaths.
Who Is Andrea Yates?
When Andrea met Rusty, a NASA engineer, in the summer of 1989, she was working as a nurse at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. But shortly after the couple wed in 1993, she quit her job to devote herself to being a wife, as the couple quickly began growing their family. Over the course of the next seven years, she welcomed five children and experienced one miscarriage, all while tending to household duties and caring for her father, who suffered from Alzheimer's.
It was after the birth of her first child, Noah, in February 1994, that Andrea began experiencing the first symptoms of psychosis, according to court documents. She told Dr. James Thompson she "had visions and had heard voices since the birth of her first child."
Then, after the birth of her fourth child, Luke, in February 1999, Andrea made her first attempt at suicide, which resulted in her being hospitalized and prescribed antidepressants, according to the court documents.
Andrea attempted suicide a second time a few months later and was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric center, after which her condition improved. She was eventually released from the center, but psychiatrist Dr. Eileen Starbranch warned that she and Rusty should not have another child, for she feared that it would again trigger psychosis.
Nonetheless, Andrea and Rusty had their fifth child, Mary, in November 2000.
Her mental health issues were exacerbated by the March 12, 2001 death of her father, which resulted in her being admitted to Devereux Hospital in League City on March 31, 2001.
What Was Andrea Yates Diagnosed With?
Andrea was diagnosed with major depression, psychosis, postpartum psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizo-personality disorder following multiple hospitalizations, Dr. Park Dietz testified during a second trial in 2006, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Though she was still exhibiting symptoms of psychosis, Rusty and Andrea arranged for her release from Devereux Hospital on April 13, 2001, per the court records. Rusty's own mother, Dora Yates, witnessed Andrea's behavior, around April 19, and temporarily relocated to a nearby motel to help with childcare considering Andrea's condition. Dora testified that Andrea would speak to herself, tremble, and scratch her head to the point of baldness.
Andrea would once more be admitted to the Devereux Hospital for 10 days, after which Rusty was warned by Dr. Mohammad Saeed to not leave her alone with the children citing her hallucinations and paranoia.
How Did Andrea Yates' Children Die?
Though Dr. Saeed cautioned Rusty to not leave the children alone with Andrea, he did so on the morning of June 20, 2001, with the expectation that Andrea's mother Dora would be arriving soon to help take care of the kids. In the space of an hour, Andrea filled the bathtub and drowned all five children, before calling 911 at 9:48 a.m. to request that police come to her home. Officers arrived 10 minutes later to find the four children laid out on a bed in the master bedroom, still wet and covered by a sheet. The eldest son, Noah, was still in the bathtub.
By the time the officers arrived, Andrea had already called Rusty and told him that he needed to come home, though she wouldn't say why. As he left, he asked if the children were hurt, and she'd reply, "All of them," according to court records.
She later told Dr. Melissa Ferguson, the medical director of psychiatric services at the Harris County Jail, that the children needed to be saved from eternal damnation, so she drowned them, according to the Houston Chronicle.
"It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil," Ferguson remembered Andrea saying.
Is Andrea Yates In Prison?
Andrea pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to three charges of capital murder for the deaths of Mary, John and Noah. She was found guilty of all three charges following a 2002 trial, but the conviction was overturned in 2005, when an appeals court ruled that Dr. Park Dietz, a prosecution expert witness, had given false testimony.
In his testimony, Dietz stated that Andrea had previously watched an episode of "Law & Order" in which a mother drowned her children and was acquitted because she had postpartum depression. This suggested that Andrea had plotted to kill her children..
Additionally, prosecutors reiterated this notion in their closing arguments.
"She watches ‘Law & Order’ regularly. She sees this program. There is a way out. She tells that to Dr. Dietz: A way out," the prosecutor said, according to NBC News.
But in reality, there was no such episode of the television show. The appeals court ruled that this was misleading to jurors and reversed the conviction.
"His testimony was critical to establish the state’s case,” the appeals court ruling said. “Although the record does not show that Dr. Dietz intentionally lied in his testimony, his false testimony undoubtedly gave greater weight to his opinion.”
Where Are Rusty and Andrea Yates Now?
Following a second trial in 2006, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and she was sent to Kerrville State Hospital, where she remains to this day.
Andrea's defense attorney, George Parnham, said in a 2016 interview with NBC Houston affiliate KPRC that he remains close to his client, whom he speaks to "about every seven or eight days."
"There's not a day that goes by where she doesn't care for, talk about, is happy for her childrens' lives before June the 20th and grieves for her children," he shared.
As for Rusty, his divorce from Andrea was finalized in 2005, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Rusty remarried and had a son named Mark with his second wife, though he struggled with the trauma of losing his children.
"I have to exert my will more to do that," he said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. "Because it's a breach of trust. Like Andrea, I completely trusted her and it was a complete, you know, betrayal of trust for her to take the lives of our children. I'm all in one day, and the next day, they're gone."
Rusty's second wife later filed for divorce, according to court documents cited by Today.com.