Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Female Mass Murderers: Major Cases and Motives

Insanity or Murder?

The Yates family
The Yates family

Andrea and Russell ("Rusty") Yates married in 1993, and after the birth of their first child a year later, she began to have violent visions of someone being stabbed.  She and her husband, however, shared fundamental notions about family, so she kept her frightening secrets to herself. Rusty followed the teachings of a fire-and-brimstone preacher named Michael Woroniecki.

In 1999, Andrea sank into a deep depression and tried to kill herself with a drug overdose, so Rusty got her into treatment.  When they ran out of insurance coverage, she was discharged. 

Later, Rusty found her in the bathroom one day pressing a knife to her throat. He got her hospitalized.  On the antipsychotic drug, Haldol, she improved slightly.  By this time, she had five children, including a baby.  When her father died a few months later, she stopped functioning. Again, she was treated, but taken off Haldol and put back into Rusty's care.  He was warned not to leave her alone.  

Andrea Yates was charged with intentionally causing the deaths of three of the children with a deadly weapon — in this case, water. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Despite her claims that Satan was visiting her in her jail cell and that she believed that "666," a biblical reference to the Antichrist, was carved on her scalp, a judge deemed her competent to stand trial and assist in her own defense.

Her trial became a battleground for mental health experts. Yates' defense team presented her history of delusional depression, use of anti-psychotic drugs and suicide attempts, and they offered documentation that postpartum mood swings can sometimes evoke psychosis. 

But the case hinged only on her mental state at the time of the drownings, and the jury ultimately decided she knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the killings. They convicted her of first-degree murder and she was sentenced to life in prison.

While incarcerated and on medication, she has come to realize what she has done to her children and attempted to starve herself to death. 

Dr. Park Dietz
Dr. Park Dietz

On January 6, 2005, an appeals court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial.  While Yates' attorneys appealed on 19 separate legal grounds, the issue that won the appeal surrounded the testimony of the prosecution's psychiatrist, Dr. Park Dietz.  The three-judge panel of the First Appeals Court in Houston decided that the erroneous statements may have precipitated a miscarriage of justice.

Essentially, it appears that the prosecution had attempted to convince the jury that Andrea had seen an episode of the crime show, Law and Order, in which a woman had drowned her children.  That character had supposedly been found not guilty by reason of insanity, and the episode was said to have aired not long before Yates drowned her children.   Evidence was offered that Yates was a regular viewer and it was surmised that she may have seen the story and related it to her own situation: Perhaps she was a beleaguered mother seeking a way out.

However, no such episode ever aired.  The Court decided that the information might have had an effect on the jury decision-making, so a new trial was ordered.  Yates' attorney, George Parnham, put up the bail money in 2006 to move her to a psychiatric institution to await her trial.

The next woman killed four, and her decision to do so was unique among female mass murderers in that there was no evidence of mental illness.


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