- Published: November 19, 2012
In June of 2001, Andrea Yates killed her five young children. Yates turned herself into police and confessed that the voice of Satan had spoken to her and she had to kill her children in order to keep them out of hell. The 2001 trial let to her being convicted murder. After portions of expert testimony were found be false, Yates was granted a retrial. The verdict acquitted her of the murders by reason of insanity. So what exactly was Yates diagnosis?
Yates began to suffer from auditory hallucinations after childbirth. The more children she had, the worse her symptoms became. She entered a state of depression, attempted suicide multiple times, and self-mutilated. After the birth of her fourth child, doctors strongly advised against having more children. The warning was ignored and, as predicted, she had another psychotic episode. It is believed that Yates suffered from severe postpartum depression that led to a state of psychosis. At the time of the trial a psychiatrists testified that Yates was also schizophrenia, however it is unclear whether or not the diagnosis was ever confirmed.
The Yates case is a prime example of how the insanity defense has changed. As one article puts it, “Andrea Yates of Texas should be the poster girl of everything that should be right with a revised insanity plea.” (1) Despite the fact that Andrea knew that her action were wrong, she still thought that it was the right thing to do. Under the M’Naughten Rule, a person is not responsible if they did not know that the nature of the crime was wrong. Andrea Yates would not be innocent be these standards. But is she guilty because the voices she heard compelled her to kill her children? The insanity defense has to be broad enough to cover multiple types of mental illness, including psychosis. However, the line has to be drawn somewhere. In the Yates case, it seems fair that Mrs. Yates was acquitted. While she recognized that her actions were wrong, she genuinely believed it was the only way to protect her children. The highly publicized case should serve as an example of the changing interpretations of the insanity defense.
1) " Raymond-Santo, Katie. "Andrea Yates, John Hinckley and the Insanity Plea: A Look Back." Yahoo! Contributor Network. Yahoo, 18 Aug. 2006. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://voices.yahoo.com/andrea-yates-john-hinckley-insanity-plea-a-64481.html>.
2) Roche, Timothy. "Andrea Yates: More To The Story." Time U.S. Time, 18 Mar. 2002. Web. <http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,218445-1,00.html>.
3) McLellan, Faith. "Mental Health and Justice: The Case of Andrea Yates." The Lancet. The Lancet, 2 Dec. 2006. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. <http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2806%2969789-4/fulltext>.