Tragedy upon tragedy

Andrea Yates: Hers was the unspeakable crime of an unhinged mind.

March 14, 2002

MOST PEOPLE cannot fathom the horror of what Andrea Yates did to her children: drowning them in the family bathtub, one by one. Even chasing down the oldest one, age 7, in order to do it.

And no one doubts that Andrea Yates is guilty - least of all, apparently, the Texas jury that convicted her of murder Tuesday after less than four hours of deliberation. But that jury got it wrong, because Andrea Yates is not guilty of being a murderer, she is guilty of being mentally ill.

Virtually no one has doubted that Mrs. Yates is insane; the jail psychiatrist who interviewed her the day after the killings called her one of the most severely mentally ill people she had ever examined. Mrs. Yates has been treated for extreme postpartum depression and psychosis. She tried to commit suicide twice. To paraphrase her attorney, if Andrea Yates isn't nuts, nobody is.

Sadly, under the law in the state of Texas, none of that matters much. But what must matter now is that a sixth death not be added to those other five, that Andrea Yates not be executed for crimes she committed while in the throes of her illness. That would be a gross injustice, even by Texas standards.

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