Psychosis Or Vengeance?

Did Andrea Yates drown her five children as a way to get back at her husband, Rusty? That's one of the theories being raised by prosecutors in the murder trial of the Houston mother.

Throughout much of the last week, prosecutors have questioned defense experts-who have said Andrea Yates was insane at the time of the killings-on the spousal-revenge theory. And although the experts have said they found no evidence of that, prosecutors have hinted that they believe it may be a motive in the killings.

"Did you consider the possibility that she was getting back at a controlling, domineering husband?" prosecutor Joe Ownby asked Dr. Lucy Puryear, the former director of the Women's Behavioral Health Sciences Clinic at Baylor College of Medicine. The psychiatrist, now in private practice in Houston and a leading authority on postpartum mental illness, said she had not. Ownby posed the same question earlier this week to Dr. Phillip Resnick, an expert on parents who murder their children. Resnick said he ruled out spousal revenge when considering why Yates, 37, forced each of her children under water, one by one, on the morning of June 20. "This is certainly not a case of spousal revenge," Resnick told the jury. "Andrea believed Rusty was a good husband and father."

Still, throughout the three-week trial, prosecutors have honed in on several details related to Rusty Yates. One was the fact that he was the first person Andrea called after she killed the children; another was that her best friend, Debbie Holmes, told forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz that the couple were having marital problems.

On cross-examination of Rusty Yates last week, Ownby spent much of the time questioning the NASA engineer about his "traditional" beliefs regarding husbands and wives. "Man is the breadwinner and the woman is the homemaker," Rusty told Ownby, who also questioned him about his decision to sell the family's house to live the "simple life" in a converted bus while Andrea was caring for four small children. Much of this is expected to be part of Dietz's testimony when he takes the stand for the prosecution on Thursday.

Dietz, who helped convince a jury that serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was sane, is expected to testify that although she was mentally ill, Yates knew that killing her children was wrong and that she was sane when she did so. But for the jury of eight women and four men to believe him, they must discount the testimony of three other experts called by the defense who said Yates, who suffers from underlying schizophrenia, met the legal definition of insanity when she took the lives of Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2 and Mary, 6 months. Other experts have testified that Yates-who was hospitalized four times and made two suicide attempts between 1999 and 2001-was severely psychotic in the weeks and days before the killings.

Chief among those who argue that she is mentally ill is Resnick. Acknowledging that Yates had told police and her jail psychiatrist that she knew what she had done was wrong and that she expected to be executed for it, Resnick said her reasoning was psychotic. He said she had no rational motive for killing the children, whom, as many other witnesses have testified, she loved very much. Yates told him and others that she killed her children because they "were not righteous;" that because of her bad mothering she had caused them to "stumble" and that they were doomed to spend eternity in the fires of hell. Resnick says Yates believed that if she took their lives on earth, however, God would show mercy on their innocent souls and take them up to heaven.

"It is only because in the face of the dilemma she did the conduct that she feels was right," Resnick told the jury earlier this week during questioning by defense attorney George Parnham. "I think she qualifies for the Texas insanity defense."

Puryear, who first examined Yates on July 3 and continued to study her case until last month, says Yates's schizophrenia took on psychotic features during bouts of deep depression that were spurred after the births of her last two children.

Saying the children's deaths were preventable had Yates received proper treatment, Puryear showed the jury two videotapes of Yates-one taken just a month after the drownings and the other taken last month. In the first, Yates appears disheveled, confused by the questioning and emotionless. Her jail coverall slips off her shoulder and she appears grubby, her hair unwashed.

The second tape shows a much different woman. Filmed Feb. 4, the tape shows Yates clearly answering questions by Puryear, even smiling when asked about how she spends her days. She reads, exercises, play dominoes and goes to group-therapy sessions. "It was like a fog before," Yates tells Puryear. "Now it's a lot clearer."

In other testimony earlier this week, Dr. Mohammed Saeed, the psychiatrist who took Yates off her antipsychotic medication, told the court that he saw no evidence that she was psychotic when he examined her two days before the drownings. Saeed said Monday he had decided to wean Yates off Haldol because he thought it was hindering her progress. "I cannot find any evidence that psychosis was playing an important role," said Saeed.

Yates's mother, Jutta Karin Kennedy, took the stand briefly on Tuesday to describe her daughter as a "wonderful mother." "She was always watching them, protecting them," said a tearful Kennedy.

Testimony in the case is expected to wrap up by the end of Friday, with closing statements likely on Monday.

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