Written By: Billy Sinclair
Noah was 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months, when, on June 20, 2001, their mother took each child, who was named after people of the Bible and New Testament, into the bathroom, and in spite of all their crying, pleas, and screams, drowned them before calling her husband and 911.
That’s what Andrea Yates did. No doubt about that. No dispute about guilt. As a society, we would think it unimaginable if a stranger broke into a mother’s home and killed her five children in the same manner. That person would get the death penalty—and, in fact, some states which have abolished the death penalty would reenact it just for this one individual, if they could.
In March, 2002, a Harris County, Texas, jury rejected an insanity plea by Yates and convicted her of capital murder recommending a life sentence with parole eligibility after 40 years. In January 2005, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, finding that false forensic testimony had been used to convict Yates, reversed her conviction and ordered a new trial. In July 2006, Yates’s defense team convinced a jury that the mother was insane at the time of the crime because she suffered from extreme “postpartum psychosis.” She was committed to the Texas State Hospital for the criminally insane. One year later she was transferred to a minimum security mental hospital in Kerrville, Texas.
In recent weeks, Yates’ attorney, George Parnham, petitioned a Harris County criminal court judge to grant the mental patient “freedom” to attend weekly church services in the Kerrville community. Parnham informed the court that Yates is psychologically stable, no longer poses a threat to the community or herself, and weekly church services would enhance her prospects of complete rehabilitation.
The limited freedom request has stirred considerable controversy and debate about crime and punishment. I will add my two cents to the public debate. My wife is the mother of three fine, grown children. I cannot imagine under any circumstance that she would have ever harmed a hair on the head of any of those children, even though she suffered through difficult pregnancies, losing twins to a miscarriage.
Yates reportedly told investigators that she drowned her children because they were sinners and she didn’t want them to “go to hell.” It is indisputable that prior to the murders Yates was psychotically depressed, that she had quit taking her anti-depressant medication, and that she was feverishly reading the Bible. Some reports have said that Yates told the police God told her to drown the children.
Let’s be clear: the Bible is replete with atrocities ordered by God. He enacted the “Ban” which commanded the Israelites in taking cities and villages of the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites to put to death every man, woman and child with the knife. So given God’s recorded history, it is quite possible that He spoke to Yates and told the deranged mother to drown her five defenseless children.
My point is this: I don’t care if God descended from Heaven and personally instructed Yates to drown her five children, she was morally and legally bound to tell God, “You take that atrocious stuff on back to Heaven. I am not about to kill, to drown, my children for You or anyone else in Your Kingdom. If killing my five children earns me a seat in Heaven, Hell is a better place to be.”
And as for the post-partum psychosis issue, Yates may have been out of her mind when she drown the first child, maybe even the second, but at some point in that horrific killing process, with her children begging, pleading and fighting for life, she knew what she was doing and did it anyway. The thought of those crying children brings tears to my soul, and the sorrow that produces those tears will never be erased by some post-partum excuse.
Should Andrea Yates be allowed to attend church services? I have reservations about allowing someone to communicate in the free community with the very God who told her to kill her children. God is not about to say, “Oops, my bad – go and sin no more.” I don’t know if God talked to Yates or not on June 20, 2001, but what I do know she believes He did, and I don’t trust her ability to interpret God’s instructions. God could instruct her to “Go at will” and she might interpret that instruction as “Go and kill.”