Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

Andrea's Defense

During the defense's presentation of proof of Andrea's insanity, Parnham and Odom used prison psychiatrist Melissa Ferguson to testify to Andrea's state of mind soon after her arrest. After being placed on medications that allowed her to process questions and to talk, she admitted to her fears about Satan: He had spoken to her and the children through cartoons they were watching on television. They were bad because they were eating too much candy. He demanded that she kill the children, and to be rid of him, she believed she had to get the death penalty. Her children, she said, could never be saved, because she had not raised them right. She had decided on drowning because stabbing was too bloody.

Rusty also took the stand and described his wife's manner with the children. He admitted that he had not grasped the full extent of his wife's illness and often just did not know what to do. Andrea did not tell him about the hallucinations or voices and he had assumed that the doctors he took her to had done whatever could be done. He admitted being frustrated with Dr. Saeed's refusal to use Haldol or keep her hospitalized.

Saeed had written in her records that she had no symptoms of psychosis. He went on the stand during the start of the third week of trial. He had diagnosed her with depression with psychotic features but did not have evidence that she was psychotic two days before the fatal incident. Parnham accused him of doctoring his notes to protect himself, based on his perception that the handwriting about the lack of psychotic features was smaller than other writing on the report. Saeed vehemently stated that he had written the notes on the same day.

Then Andrea's mother took the stand to talk for ten minutes about Andrea being a wonderful mother. There was no cross-examination.

Now it was time for the big guns. Odom and Parnham called on psychiatrists Phillip Resnick from Case Western Universityin Ohio, Steve Rosenblatt, and Lucy Puryear to explain that Andrea suffered from schizophrenic delusions and had believed that killing her children was the right thing to do.

The defense psychiatrists tried hard to show the jury that Andrea was incapable of knowing what she had done within a normal context of interpretation.

"It's not like she could come up with a list of options," Puryear said. "She was psychotic at the time and driven by delusions that [the children] were going to Hell and she must save them."

Rosenblatt, who interviewed her five days after the killings said that he observed that she was in a deep state of psychosis, and it would have taken her weeks to get that sick. He concluded that she had been in that hallucinatory state at the time of the incident. He could not say why she had stopped taking her medication.

They described Andrea's suicide attempts and her hallucinations after her first child was born. Puryear talked about her shame over such ideations and her need for secrecy. She also educated the jury in the difference between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, and indicated that Andrea was suspicious that Satan may have influenced her doctors.

Dr. Phillip Resnick
Dr. Phillip Resnick

Dr. Resnick, a specialist in parents who kill their children, described the killings as "altruistic." He admitted that Andrea did know that what she was doing was illegal but believed her decision to kill her children was nevertheless right, for the protection of their eternal souls. He believed, after seeing her in her cell on two different occasions, that she suffered from schizophrenia and depression. While he contradicted the other doctors, he said each had his own interpretation of the data.

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