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Judging Andrea


 Special to USAfrica The Newspaper, Houston and

On March 12, 2002, a jury of twelve Texans tried Andrea Yates for the drowning murder of her five children. The jury of eight women and four men took all of three-and-half-hours to convict her on multiple counts of capital murder. I was shocked, as were many people all over the world. As the jury's decision was read in court, Andrea stood motionless while her husband, Russell Yates, mother, mother-in-law, and other family members sobbed.

After the verdict, the defense attorneys and family members came out to speak with the press while the prosecutors sneaked out of the court room without speaking with the press.

One would have expected them to come out and enjoy their moment in the sun. It was their victory. Why did they not take their victory lap or dance? After all, they just added another feather to their cap. You must have guessed; they were ashamed. They had every right to be. Every right thinking and compassionate, person should be ashamed, too. Daily, a country that prides itself on being compassionate looses its humanity. Slowly, compassion in all of us is dying.

The Andrea Yates verdict is another nail in the coffin of compassionate America. Friday, March 15, the jury deliberated for about thirty-five minutes and found that Andrea Yates is not a danger to the people of Texas or to anyone else, for that matter. During the sentencing phase of her trial, the prosecution did not call any witnesses while the defense team called ten. Listening to the closing arguments of both sides, it was obvious the prosecution was not really keen to see Andrea get the death penalty.

At a press conference addressed by the prosecutors later, they were asked why they did not demand that the jury give Andrea a death sentence? They tried to dodge the question and when pressed, they contradicted one another.

Joseph Owmby, said he did not think the evidence and the facts supported a death penalty. His colleague, Kaylynn Williford, said she wanted the death penalty for Andrea. Why was she afraid to mention that to the jury? The prosecution and defense teams agree that Andrea is a very, very sick woman. Both defense and prosecution witnesses attested to this fact.

So why was a very sick, insane woman tried for murder if the prosecutors admit she was insane? Politics. The politics of the death penalty prevailed.

Five children lost their lives in this tragedy and for this, somebody had to pay. We must blame someone for their death. I am in complete agreement with the sentiment that somebody had to pay. But not Andrea. She, too, is a victim. In more than half the states in this country, Andrea would have been sent to a mental hospital instead of prison, but not in Texas. The Lone Star State has politicians who use their support for capital punishment as a campaign issue. Why did the jury find Andrea guilty of capital murder despite the fact that everybody agrees that this woman is mentally ill? The twelve members of the jury were asked to determine if Andrea knew right from wrong when she drowned her children. Most psychiatrists would tell you that sometimes people know that what they are doing is wrong but are not capable of stopping themselves from doing it. Isn't that what insanity is all about? Andrea Pia Yates knew she had murdered her children. She loved them but in her mind killing them was the only way to save them from Satan. She was also looking forward to being executed so that she, also, would be freed from the mark of the devil which she thinks she has somewhere on her head.


But the jury had one question before them: Did Andrea Pia Yates, know that what she was doing was wrong when she did it? The jury answered that she knew what she did was wrong. The jury was not made aware of the fact that finding Andrea not guilty by reason of insanity would not mean that she goes home and continues to make more children. Finding her not guilty by reason of insanity would have meant she would be placed into a mental hospital for treatment. Forty years in a Texas State prison is not what Andrea deserves or needs.

She deserves and needs help since most agree that the woman is very ill. Am I the only one who thinks it's wrong for jurors to make decisions without realizing the consequences of their decision? Why was the jury not made aware of the consequences of their decisions? Texas justice system.

The next question is how do you, as a juror, decide the fate of another human being without knowing the full implication of your decision? Maybe we should ask the jurors the same question they were asked about Andrea: Did you, as jurors, know right from wrong when you decided that an insane Andrea is guilty of crimes she committed in a state of psychosis? The answer must be a resounding no.

Many people have suggested that Russell Yates should be tried as an accomplice to the murder of their five children. This suggestion comes from those who believe that Andrea knowingly killed her children. Some argue that she killed them to get back at Russell for being controlling and overbearing. They conveniently forget that Andrea had tried to commit suicide twice in previous years.

I am the first to admit that Russell is guilty. He is guilty of loving his wife unconditionally and hoping that she will get better. He is guilty of believing and trusting in medical experts who were treating his wife. Russell is guilty of not reading the mind of his wife that morning before going to work.

Russell Yates seems the kind of man most women dream of for a husband. He is a very handsome and loving man. Professionally, he has done well for himself. He is a computer engineer with NASA. I am sure some of Andrea's friends envied her for being the wife of such a handsome, loving and successful man. Yet, today, they want to hang him for not suspecting that his wife may someday drown his children. If Russell had taken those children away from Andrea or limited her contact with them, some of these same people would have claimed that his cruelty drove her over the edge.

I have heard that mental illness is on the rise in the United States. This was a good opportunity for the doctors to study postpartum psychosis. This would have been a good opportunity for women to get together to demand that serious attention be given to a disease that strikes at one of the most important period of a woman's life.

Unfortunately, except for a few of them, the women I saw on television, most wanted revenge. They wanted Andrea to pay the supreme price. They were afraid of their vulnerability and wanted Andrea to pay. The Yates family is the victim here. Andrea did not kill her children. She may have drowned them but people failed her before she arrived at that point and those people should pay for the loss of the five Yates children and Andrea. The Texas justice system, the health insurance system, the doctors-these are the ones who failed to do their jobs; they all should pay. They failed the Yates family.
Elendu is a contributing editor of and He writes every Friday, exclusively for This commentary will appear in the print edition of USAfrica The Newspaper. Archiving of this essay on another web site is not authorized; only web links are allowed.

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