It appears that juries have a difficult time in America sending a mother to lethal injection or the electric chair. While postpartum depression occurs in up to twenty percent of women who have children, psychotic manifestations are much rarer, and thus much less understood. Only one in five hundred births result in the mother’s postpartum psychosis, says forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner (Ramsland). A psychiatric examination was ordered for Andrea. The psychiatrist asked Andrea what she thought would happen to the children now.
She indicated that she believed God would “take them up. ” He reversed the question and asked what might have happened if she had not taken their lives. Andrea said, “I guess they would have continued stumbling,” which meant, “They would have gone to hell. ” The doctors testifying for Yates made the claim. “She did what she thought was right in the world she perceived through her psychotic eyes at the time,” said psychiatrist Phillip Resnick. In other words, even if she seemed to understand the difference between right and wrong, she did not know what she was doing (Ramsland).
Although the prosecutors did not dispute the fact that Yates was mentally ill, they did argue that she knew her actions were wrong. How these two sides lined up on different poles of interpretation illustrates the great divide between the concepts of mental illness and legal insanity in the U. S. This case made it clear that it’s time for courts to better address the gap. Yates’ defense team proved her history of delusional depression, use of anti-psychotic drugs, and suicide attempts, and there’s documentation that postpartum mood swings can sometimes evoke psychosis.
Yet no matter how many doctors testified to Yates’ mental decline, the legal issue hinged on only her mental state at the time of the offense. As Yates drowned her children one by one, even chasing down the seven-year-old to drag him to the tub, did she really have any awareness that what she was doing was wrong? In her cell when Yates was interviewed by one of the rebuttal psychiatrist, Andrea admitted that it had been a bad decision to kill the children, and said, “I shouldn’t have done it. ” She thought the devil had left after she committed the crime. He destroys and then leaves. ” Since she was claiming that she did indeed know that it was wrong, the attorneys needed experts who could prove that her manner of processing this information was in itself rooted in psychosis. Not only did they have to meet one of the most restrictive standards in the country for insanity, they had to educate the jury in ideas about mental illness that were rife among the public with stereotypes and misperception and to help them get beyond the literal interpretation of “right” and “wrong. During Yates’ trial, psychiatrist Park Dietz — who was never Yates’ psychiatrist — testified that she was not mentally ill, but had cleverly patterned her children’s killings after an episode of Law and Order, where a woman drowned her children but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. There was just one problem with Dietz’ testimony: Law and Order had never filmed a storyline even vaguely like the episode Dietz described. On the basis of Dietz’ misleading testimony, Yates was granted a re-trial in 2006.
She was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and transferred from prison (where she had spent four years) to a state mental hospital for treatment. Betsy Schwartz, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston, said the verdict brought “justice to a woman whose severe mental illness was never in question. ” Dietz, the psychiatrist who said his false testimony was “an honest mistake,” was never indicted for perjury (Ramsland).
Conclusively, it is evident that Andrea’s mental illness journey began shortly after the birth of her first born child. Andrea began to have violent visions: she saw someone being stabbed. She thought she heard Satan speak to her. However, she and her husband had idealistic, Bible-inspired notions about family and motherhood, so she kept her tormenting secrets to herself. She didn’t realize how much mental illness there was in her own family, from depression to bipolar disorder—which can contribute to postpartum psychosis.