Andrea Yates

Andrea Pia Yates (born July 2, 1964) a Houston, Texas resident, is known for killing her five young children on June 20, 2001, by drowning them in the bathtub in her house. She had been suffering for years with severe postpartum depression and psychosis. Her case placed the M'Naghten Rules, a legal test for insanity, under close public scrutiny in the United States. Convicted of capital murder in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 40 years, Yates' conviction was later overturned on appeal. On July 26, 2006, a Texas jury ruled Yates to be not guilty by reason of insanity. She was consequently committed by the court to the North Texas State Hospital, Vernon Campus, a high-security mental health facility in Vernon, Texas, where she received medical treatment and was a roommate of Dena Schlosser, another woman who committed filicide. In January 2007, Yates was moved to a low security state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.


Andrea Pia Kennedy was born in Houston, Texas to Jutta Karin Koehler, a German immigrant, and Andrew Emmett Kennedy, whose parents were born in Ireland. Kennedy attended Milby High School, where she graduated as class valedictorian in 1982. She married Russell "Rusty" Yates, a computer programmer for NASA, on April 17, 1993, and the couple moved to the community of Clear Lake City, in southeast Houston.

The Yateses announced at their wedding in 1993 that they would seek to have "as many babies as nature allowed," a cornerstone of their newly shared religious beliefs, which were formed by the itinerant preacher Michael Peter Woroniecki. Woroniecki had been mentoring Russell Yates since meeting him at Auburn University in 1984, and Russell had introduced the preacher to Andrea in 1992. In 1996, after several children, Andrea Yates began showing outward signs of exhaustion, which became more obvious in 1998 after three children and one miscarriage.

In May 1998, the Yateses were in Florida, and they visited there with the family of their preacher. Woroniecki verbally chastised Andrea and her husband, telling them that despite many years of counsel under his ministry, they were still "headed for hell." Russell would soon have a falling out with the preacher over the dilapidated bus he had purchased from the preacher while in Florida, but Andrea would continue to correspond with the Woronieckis through to the spring of 1999, when she received several condemning and pressuring letters from them.

In July 1999, Yates succumbed to a nervous breakdown, which culminated in two suicide attempts and two psychiatric hospitalizations that summer. She was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. She was successfully treated and discharged in January 2000.

Her first psychiatrist, Dr. Eileen Starbranch, testified that she urged the couple not to have more children, as it would "guarantee future psychotic depression". The Yateses conceived their fifth child approximately 7 weeks after her discharge.

Yates' mental illness resurfaced in March 2001, three months after the birth of her fifth child. Her illness was further exacerbated by the death of her father in mid-March 2001. Two weeks later, she became so incapacitated that she required immediate hospitalization. On April 1, 2001 she came under the care of Dr. Mohammed Saeed. She was treated and released. On May 3, 2001, she degenerated back into a "near catatonic" state and suspiciously drew a bath in the middle of the day for no apparent reason. Andrea was hospitalized the next day after a scheduled doctor visit. Her psychiatrist determined she was probably suicidal and had drawn the tub to drown herself. Andrea would later confess to police that she had planned to drown the children that day, but she had decided against doing it then.

Yates continued under Dr. Saeed's care until June 20, 2001, when her husband left for work, leaving Andrea alone to watch their five children against Dr. Saaed's instructions to supervise her around the clock. Mr. Yates' mother, Dora Yates, had been scheduled by Russell to arrive an hour later to take over for Andrea. In the space of that hour, Andrea Yates drowned all five of her children.

Religious influence

Andrea Yates was raised Roman Catholic, but she recanted her former beliefs in 1992 when she submitted to Russell's mentor, travelling preacher Michael Peter Woroniecki, whom he had met at Auburn University in the fall of 1984. He introduced his wife to the preacher in 1992, before they married. Woroniecki promoted a doctrine that his followers should have "as many children as nature allows", which the Yateses both announced at their wedding they were going to pursue. (See Quiverfull.)

In the aftermath of the drownings, investigative reporter Suzy Spencer discovered letters written to Yates by the Woroniecki family that berated her for her "unrighteous standing before God". A newsletter called Perilous Times, authored by the Woronieckis the first month of 2000, was introduced into evidence at her trials to help establish the central motivating content behind her psychotic delusions.

Also introduced at the retrial was a video produced by the Woronieckis in 1996. In this video, the preacher condemns what he calls the hypocritical, modern, "husband goes to work, wife just exists," Christian lifestyle. Alternatively, he taught that parents must boldly and prophetically preach full time on the streets as he does, "training" their children through this example, so they would emulate it and thus be "saved;" however, Russell continued to work at NASA contrary to Woroniecki's instructions. The defense argued that Yates' delusions followed the video's rationale that the life she was living would ensure her children's fate in hell.

Yates told her jail psychiatrist, "It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell.

The drownings

On June 20, 2001, after her husband left for work at 9:00 a.m., Yates filled the family bathtub, and proceeded to drown her three youngest sons, Luke, Paul and John, placing their bodies next to each other on a bed, an arm of one of the children was placed around another. The infant, Mary, had been in the bathroom in her bassinet, crying during this time. She became the fourth victim. When the oldest, Noah, entered the room, Mary's body was still in the bathtub; after asking his mother what was wrong with Mary, Noah attempted to flee the room. Yates caught Noah and then drowned him next to his sister's body. Yates took Mary's body into the other room, laid it next to the first three, and covered all four with a sheet. Yates left Noah in the tub.

Andrea then called 9-1-1 and calmly asked for a police officer to come, asking for an ambulance only after it was suggested by the operator. Yates then called her husband at work saying, "You need to come home...." Rusty asked her if anyone was hurt and she replied "Yes." He then asked who and she replied "It's the children ... all of them." When Russell Yates rushed home, he found police and medical personnel had already surrounded his house.

Mr. Yates, visibly distraught, was kept waiting outside the crime scene inside his home for five hours as the medical examiner processed the children's bodies.

Andrea Yates received the officers at the door, telling them she had just killed her children. She led them to the master bedroom where they found the four youngest children covered with a sheet, lying face up on the bed, eyes still open. Noah was discovered by another officer face-down in the bathtub. Yates calmly explained what she had done, and offered no resistance to the officers as she was led away from the scene.


Although the defense's expert testimony agreed that Yates was psychotic, Texas law requires that, in order to successfully assert the insanity defense, the defendant must prove that he or she could not discern right from wrong at the time of the crime. In March 2002, a jury rejected the insanity defense and found Yates guilty. Although the prosecution had sought the death penalty, the jury refused that option. The trial court sentenced Yates to life imprisonment with eligibility for parole in 40 years.

On January 6, 2005, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the convictions, because California psychiatrist and prosecution witness Dr. Park Dietz admitted he had given materially false testimony during the trial. Dietz stated that shortly before the killings, an episode of Law & Order had aired featuring a woman who drowned her children and was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity. Author Suzanne O'Malley, who was covering the trial for Oprah magazine and had previously been a writer for Law & Order, immediately reported that no such episode existed; the appellate court held that the jury may have been influenced by his false testimony and that thus a new trial would be necessary. (Later, in 2004, Law & Order: Criminal Intent did air the episode "Magnificat", based in part on Yates' case.)

On January 9, 2006, Yates again entered pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity. On February 1, 2006, she was granted release on bail on the condition that she be admitted to a mental health treatment facility.

On July 26, 2006, after three days of deliberations, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity, as defined by the state of Texas. She was thereafter committed to the North Texas State Hospital - Vernon Campus. In January 2007, Yates was moved to a low security state mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.

Responsibility for children's deaths

Russell Yates

According to trial testimony in 2006, Dr. Saeed advised Russell Yates not to leave his patient unattended. Without consulting the doctor about his plans, and against medical advice, Mr. Yates began leaving his wife alone with the children in the weeks leading up to the drownings. Russell had announced to a family gathering the weekend before the drownings that he had decided to leave Andrea home alone for an hour each morning and evening, so that she would not become totally dependent on him and his mother for her maternal responsibilities. Andrea Yates' brother, Brian Kennedy, told Larry King on a broadcast of CNN's Larry King Live that Russell expressed to him in 2001 while transporting her to Devereux treatment facility that all depressed people needed was a "swift kick in the pants" to get them motivated. Mrs. Yates' mother, Jutta Karin Kennedy, expressed shock when she heard of Russell's plan while at the dinner gathering with them, saying that she wasn't safe enough to care for the children. She noted that her daughter demonstrated she wasn't in her right mind when she nearly choked her still-toothless infant Mary by trying to feed her solid food. According to authors Suzy Spencer and Suzanne O'Malley, who investigated the Yates story in great detail, it was during a phone call Dr. Saeed made to Russell Yates during the breaking news of the killings that he first learned that Andrea was not being supervised full time.

On August 16, 1999, during an office visit with the Yateses, Andrea's first psychiatrist, Dr. Eileen Starbranch, says she was shocked to disbelief when the Yates expressed a desire to discontinue Andrea's medications so that she could become pregnant again. She warned and counseled the couple against having more children, and noted in the medical record two days later, '"Apparently patient and husband plan to have as many babies as nature will allow! This will surely guarantee future psychotic depression."' Nevertheless, Andrea Yates became pregnant with her fifth child, Mary, only 7 weeks after being discharged from Dr. Starbranch's care on January 12, 2000. Despite Russell Yates' statements to the media that he was never told by psychiatrists that Andrea was psychotic nor that she could harm her children, and that he would have never had more children had he known otherwise, Andrea revealed to her jail psychiatrist, Dr. Melissa Ferguson, that prior to their last child, "she had told Rusty that she did not want to have sex because Dr. Starbranch had said she might hurt her children." Russell, she said, simply asserted his procreative religious beliefs, complimented her as a good mother, and persuaded her that she could handle more children.

Author Suzanne O'Malley highlighted Russell Yates' continuing sense of unreality regarding having more children:

"During the trial, he'd successfully maintained the position that Andrea would be found innocent. He had fantasies of having more children with her after she was successfully treated in a mental health facility and released on the proper medication. He worked his way through various fixes for their damaged lives, such as a surrogate motherhood and adoption (horrifying Andrea's family, attorney's and Houston psychiatrists) before giving in to reality."

Medical community

Russell Yates contended that as a psychiatrist, Dr. Saeed was responsible for recognizing and properly treating his wife's psychosis, not a medically untrained person like himself. He also claimed that, despite his urgings to check her medical records for prior treatment, Dr. Saeed had refused to continue her regimen of the antipsychotic Haldol, the treatment that had worked for her during her first breakdown in 1999. Mr. Yates added that his wife was too sick to be released from her last stay in the hospital in May, 2001. He said he noticed the staff lower their heads as if in shame and embarrassment, turning away without saying a word. The hospital had had no other choice due to the ten day psychiatric hospitalization insurance constraints of the Yates' provider, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, subcontracted by Magellan Health Services.

Andrea's former husband and her birth family with the assistance of a Scientology watchdog group believe that the combination of antidepressants were improperly prescribed by Dr. Saeed in the days before the tragedy was responsible for Andrea's violent, psychotic behavior. According to Dr. Moira Dolan, executive director of the Medical Accountability Network, "homicidal ideation" was added to the warning label of the antidepressant drug Effexor as a rare adverse event, in 2005. Yates, she said, had been taking 450 mg, twice the recommended maximum dose, for a month prior to killing her children. Dr. Dolan reviewed Yates' medical record at the request of her then-husband, Russell Yates.

Dr. Lucy Puyear, an expert witness hired by Yates' defense team, countered the family's contention regarding the administration of her antidepressants, saying the dosages prescribed by Saeed are not uncommon in practice and had nothing at all to do with her reemergent psychosis. She suggested rather that Yates' psychosis returned as a result of the Haldol having been discontinued by her doctor two weeks earlier. The oral form of haloperidol (Haldol) takes 4-6 days after discontinuation to reach a terminal plasma level of under 1.5%--a medical standard for "complete" elimination of a drug from the body.

Religious minister

Numerous media outlets alleged that Yates' minister, Michael Peter Woroniecki, bears some responsibility for the deaths, reporting that he and his wife built a framework of homicidal and suicidal delusions in Yates' impressionably ill mind through "relentless gloom and doom sermonizing. She had come to believe that she was a "bad mother" who was spiritually and behaviorally damaging her children, and that it was better to kill herself and her offspring rather than to allow them to continue "stumbling" and go to hell--a staple of her minister's teaching to parents found on his 1996 video, which the Yates both received from him and watched. After viewing this video, Dr. Lucy Puryear told Houston's KTRK-13 News and Good Morning America that although Andrea would have still been mentally ill, she didn't believe Yates would have ever drowned her children had it not been for Woroniecki's religious influences.

Andrea Yates

Although psychiatrists for both the Texas State prosecutors and Yates' defense lawyers agreed that Andrea was severely mentally ill with one of several psychotic diseases at the time she killed her children, the state of Texas asserted that she was by legal definition aware enough to judge her actions as right or wrong despite her mental defect. The prosecution further implied spousal-revenge as motive for the killings, despite the conclusion of defense experts that there was no evidence to support such a motive.Although the original death-qualified jury believed Yates was legally aware of her actions, they disagreed that Yates was motived by spousal-revenge. The jury in 2006 completely disagreed with the prosecution's assertions and her earlier conviction from 2002 was overturned.

In a letter to "Are You Alone?" author Suzanne O'Malley postmarked Oct. 24, 2002, Yate's preacher, Michael Woroniecki, accused Andrea Yates of killing her children with the "sole motive" of revenge against her husband, who he claimed told him on several occasions of her "intense hatred for Rusty. In question as to why he did not come forward with such damaging testimony before or during the trial, Woroniecki claimed simply that no one had asked him. Curiously, Woroniecki denied having knowledge of Andrea's motive only five months earlier in a radio broadcast of the Leslie Primeau Show at CHED AM 630 in Edmonton, Canada.



  • Bienstock, Sheri L. Mothers Who Kill Their Children and Postpartum Psychosis, (2003) Vol. 32, No. 3 Southwestern University Law Review, 451.
  • Keram, The Insanity Defense and Game Theory: Reflections on Texas v.Yates, (2002) Vol. 30, No. 4 Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 470.
  • O'Malley, Suzanne, '"Are You There Alone?:" The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates' ISBN 0-7434-6629-2, See also author website
  • Spencer, Breaking Point ISBN 0-312-93871-3, See also author website


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