A Cry In the Dark
May 22, 2001
(Almost four weeks before the murders.) After ten more days in the hospital and seven days of PHP, Andrea was discharged. Family members say that two weeks before the murders, Saeed took Andrea off Haldol. He testified at her grand jury hearing but has not commented to the press.
"What do you think about Mr. Emotional?" Andrea's brother Brian Kennedy, 45, asked me. He was referring—not kindly—to Rusty. "I couldn't sit there [in court] behind my wife or girlfriend or someone I loved and not touch them, not talk to them." He shook his head. "I remember looking into Andrea's eyes when I saw her two weeks before it happened. It was like looking into the mirror and seeing my own eyes." Brian paused. "I'm the black sheep of the family. When they talk about the brother with mental illness, that's me. I'm bipolar—the first to get arrested, the first to do drugs, you know, the troublemaker."
Another sibling suffers from depression, as did Andrea's father; the family medical history notes some alcohol problems. Brian told me his mother, Jutta Karin Kennedy, 72, lived through World War II in Germany and did not come out unscathed. She is a small, grandmotherly woman with thinning white hair who wears a white crucifix around her neck. Every day of the competency hearing, she sat in the row behind her daughter, using a small burgundy lower-back pillow for support. It's no wonder she looked shell-shocked: In six months' time she had lost her husband, five grandchildren, and a daughter.
By the time Andrea Yates killed her children, she apparently believed Satan was inside her and had irrevocably damaged her children. According to Steve Rubenzer, a Harris County forensic psychologist who interviewed her, she believed that after the drownings, the children would go to paradise. George W. Bush, who she believed was still governor of Texas, would see to her execution. Where she had failed to kill herself, the government would not.
Each of us sees in the Yates case our own issues—the death penalty, children's rights, women's rights, men's rights, rights of the mentally ill, religious rights, or just plain righteousness. What most people forget is that they have never been psychotic. Nothing in the normal—or even neurotic—mind lays the groundwork for organizing reasonable thought around such unreasonable acts.
Over the course of the unusually long—for a Texas competency hearing—81/2-hour deliberation, the jury panel unanimously voted her competent to stand trial. As the jurors, some visibly disturbed, exited the courtroom, Andrea patted her lawyer on the back, automatic, consoling. "What verdict are we hoping for?" she was overheard asking.
March 18, 2002
Andrea Pia Yates, 37, was formally sentenced to life in prison for drowning three of her five children. She will not be eligible for parole for 40 years.
Suzanne O'Malley is a former contributing editor of New York magazine and former editor at large of Inside.com.