Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?


Dr. Park Dietz, in from TAG, his threat assessment firm in California, was a rebuttal witness after the defense presented its case.   Much was made in the media about the fact the Resnick and Dietz were once again head to head.  They had been on opposite sides of several other high-profile cases and Dietz usually won the day.  His forte was to make complicated psychological issues simple for juries, and in the Yates case he used a Power Point presentation to do so.  While he admitted that Andrea was seriously ill, possibly even schizophrenic, he also insisted that she had nevertheless known that what she was doing was wrong. 

He pointed out that she had not acted like a mother who believed she was saving her children from Satan, and she had kept her long-festering plan a secret from others.   Thus, while she knew she was having delusions about harming others, she had done nothing to protect them.  She even admitted she knew that what she had done was wrong—it was a sin---and by Texas law, these facts were sufficient for the jury to convict Yates of first-degree murder.  She knew she deserved the death penalty and that it was a punishment for doing something wrong.  She also believed that God would judge her act as bad, and Dietz interpreted her covering of the bodies with a sheet as evidence of guilt.  The fact that she had not comforted and reassured them in death indicated that she had not killed them as an act of love and protection.

"Ordinarily when someone keeps a criminal plan secret," Dietz said, "they do it because it's wrong."

He tended to blame others, notably Rusty.   He described the note from Dr. Saeed in her medical records that she was not to be left alone.  That implied that she was severely impaired and was not safe to leave with children.  He pointed out that she did not follow the advice of her various doctors and made decisions based on her belief that she knew what was best for herself.  She had been living in unhealthy conditions during her illness and not gotten good continuous care.  In her cell when Dietz interviewed her, Andrea had admitted that it had been a bad decision to kill the children, and said, "I shouldn't have done it."  She thought the devil had left after she committed the crime.  "He destroys and then leaves."

To counter much of what the defense's psychiatrists had laid out, Dietz opened up possibilities to the jury when he said that Andrea's psychosis may have worsened the day following the incident, while in jail where psychiatrists first saw her.   "There seemed to be new delusions and disorganized thinking on June 21."  The motive for killing her children, he indicated, appeared to be the same as her suicide: to escape an intolerable, high-stress situation.

Dietz also had learned that Andrea was an avid viewer of the television show, Law and Order, for which he consulted, and he believed that an episode of that show in which a mother drowns her child in a bathtub had inspired Andrea.   His observation gave her actions the quality of premeditation.

Dietz was the final act before both sides summed up their cases for the jury.

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