A brutal crime was committed in 2001. Five Texas children were killed. Their mother, Andrea Yates, was charged with their murders. A second brutal crime was committed just this summer, in Houston: Yates was found “not guilty” of the crime “by reason of insanity.”
There is, of course, no question that Yates is a deeply disturbed (yes, sick) woman. Her children — Noah, 7; John, 5; Luke, 3; Paul, 2; and Mary, 6 months — are dead, believed to have been drowned one at a time.
She was originally convicted on charges related to their deaths, only to have the sentence overturned because of erroneous testimony. A retrial resulted in this new “not guilty” injustice.
During her trials, prosecutors said that Noah, whose body was found with internal and external bruising, scratches, and abrasions — lived the longest, having put up the biggest fight; his mother, according to testimony, had to chase him down and drag him to the bathtub where his siblings had just been drowned.
Prosecutors argued that, though ill, she knew right from wrong and what she was doing when she killed her kids one at a time. Her lawyers argued she knew what she was doing, but thought it was right — she was battling Satan, according to Yates, and her children would go to heaven if she killed them. It was all for the good, in her post-partum-depression mess of a head.
We certainly should feel empathy for the mentally ill. But what about the children who suffered at her hands — the ones now dead?
There’s something off about “justice” when a perpetrator of such an unspeakable evil can be declared, essentially, blameless. We should be worried what it means for us if we let the memory of those dead children get lost in a mess of headlines in a fast-moving world.
Instead, absent in our national consciousness — if media chatter is any indication — are the Yates children. When we read or hear of a “Yates,” it’s anyone but the murdered innocents. When the “not guilty” came in, Yates’s ex-husband (he since remarried), Rusty, was seen smiling. We’re apparently supposed to care about how he’s feeling and she’s feeling (if Matt Lauer’s questions are any indication).
The dead children’s father has probably been Andrea’s biggest public booster, though he’s certainly not alone in working to soften her image. Among those are feminists. Judith Warner, now a New York Times columnist, in her 2005 book Perfect Madness, called Yates “a supermom unhinged.” Groups have rushed to make her a poster girl. The National Organization of Women, no friend to children, rushed to establish the Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition.
Feminists, though, are not alone. The cult of victimology has taken on Yates as one of its own. Her actions, by the way, also exposed “the dark side” of home-schooling, a CBS report told viewers.
And why wouldn’t everyone want to get a piece of Andrea Yates? She’s everymom! As Rusty Yates said on verdict day, as he often does, “Andrea was ordinarily a loving mother, who was crippled by disease.”
Enough! — five times over.
That she was mentally ill was not breaking news the day the kids turned up dead. No stranger to psychiatric hospitalization, she had recently tried to take her own life. Why exactly was she home alone with the children to begin with? Does any logical person think that, with Andrea’s psychiatric history and recorded psychotic behavior, this wouldn’t eventually end poorly, whether it was for Andrea herself or her children?
As for her husband, is he kidding? Rather than refusing to place blame for murder where it’s due, and instead attacking prosecutors for prosecuting, he ought to be reflecting on what factors led up to this completely irredeemable tragedy. Instead, this parental disaster has become a national shame.
Wait, no it hasn’t. That’s the problem.
We’re told that Andrea and Rusty are “happy” about the verdict. It’s been five years since their five kids were murdered. They’ve moved on. Perhaps we should move on too?
In fact, when I blogged on this the day of the ruling, many of my readers told me to do just that. Stop writing about the insanity of the Yates insanity verdict.
No, no, no, no, no. That would be … insane.
The bond between a mother and child is humanity’s most fundamental. In a country where abortion, cloning — and other practices that make us less inclined to protect human life — are routine, a lack of focus on the real, unreturnable victims of the Yates murders only further compromises our obligations to protecting the most vulnerable among us. And, contrary to Mr. Yates’s contention, the only “tremendous victory” in Mrs. Yates’s verdict was one for a culture of death.
“The jury looked past what happened and looked at why it happened,” Rusty Yates said outside the Harris County courtroom after the “not guilty” word came in.
Rusty, please ask Noah, John, Luke, Paul, and Mary to look past what happened.
Oh, wait — you can’t.
No one can.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.