CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Attorneys in Andrea Yates Trial Discuss Case
Aired March 15, 2002 - 15:08 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much. Going to go back to Houston right now. The prosecuting attorneys there, Joseph Owmby now at the microphone.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JOSEPH OWMBY, PROSECUTOR: ... the right verdict in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial and I respect their decision in the punishment phase. We thank them for their service.
Trying a case like this was not easy, but it would have been much harder without the contributions of our support staff, investigators, interns and fellow prosecutors. Likewise, we thank the Houston Police Department for their careful investigation, professionalism and good police work. We thank our expert witnesses for their preparation and knowledgeable testimony; Judge Hill and her patient court staff for providing both sides with a safe and dignified court proceeding. We also thank the medical examiners, Dr. Joy Carter's office for their excellent work on the scene. I also want to give credit to the guidance and wisdom of our district attorney, Chuck Rosenthal. Chuck made all the very hard decisions in this case and was unconditionally supportive of our efforts in the courtroom. I deeply appreciate his faith in Kaylynn and me.
I must also acknowledge the skilled representation of Mrs. Yates by George Parnham and Wendell Odom. They were zealous advocates for Mrs. Yates throughout these proceedings, providing as strong a defense as these facts allowed. I thank them for their courtesy and professionalism and wish them well.
We took no pleasure in prosecuting Mrs. Yates and we take no joy in this result or any result that may have occurred. In a perfect world, the Yates children will be alive and thriving in the midst of a loving family. But in this imperfect world, the best we could do was to see that justice was done for them as victims of a horrendous crime. Justice was done today. Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Owmby, you said that you respect the jury's decision. But are you disappointed hey didn't come back with the death penalty?
OWMBY: No, I'm not disappointed they didn't come back with the death penalty. What they came back with was supported by the evidence. Semantically, it's a difficult way to say it, but I cannot argue with their verdict based on the evidence that was in this case.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to go for the death penalty this morning.
OWMBY: I was aggressive as the facts allowed.
I couldn't understand either question.
QUESTION: Do you think you should have looked at that "Law and Order" case that your witness said a little bit closer?
OWMBY: I didn't look at any "Law and Order" tape at all. I didn't ask the witness about that "Law and Order" tape. The defense did on cross-examination. I had no plan to ask him and I didn't ask him. So I didn't look at any tape. If I looked at the tape, I might have asked him, if I had seen it. But it wasn't my plan to ask him.
I can't understand...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) about an appeal, that that might affect an appeal?
OWMBY: I'm always concerned about an appeal.
QUESTION: When is she going to be sentenced?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It only matters what the jury says. If you were, personally, as a citizen of Harris County, how would you have voted if you were on that jury? You knew the facts as well as they do.
OWMBY: Well, I'm an advocate. I am -- I represent the district attorney's office and my personal view is my personal views. I argued based on the evidence and the law and that's what I did in this case.
QUESTION: When is she going to be sentenced?
QUESTION: When will she be sentenced?
OWMBY: I'm not sure. The judge said sentencing will be later, but I did not catch when sentencing exactly would be. Not later today.
QUESTION: How difficult was this case for you, personally, because of the children and all of the difficult evidence. For both of you, Miss Williford, how difficult was both of this -- for both of you for this case?
KAYLYNN WILLIFORD, PROSECUTOR: It's been a very difficult case.
I'm sorry. It's been a very difficult case. It's been very emotional.
QUESTION: How would you rate it with some of the other cases you tried in terms of with all the attention it has received?
WILLIFORD: Never have I had anything with this kind of attention. Every case involving the death of a child is horrific. Any case of involved over the death of a family member, friend, has been horrific. Magnify that times five with what these children went through. It's been very emotionally totalling.
QUESTION: Could you comment on the role of Rusty Yates? Does the DA's office have any plans?
WILLIFORD: I don't think that would be appropriate.
QUESTION: Did it make it harder for you that you didn't have Rusty Yates cooperating with your side?
WILLIFORD: Mr. Yates has his opinion and is entitled to handle himself however he chooses to. And, no, that's his choice and we have nothing to say about that.
QUESTION: What about the other charges of the other children?
WILLIFORD: There's no decision made at this point.
QUESTION: Why didn't you ask for the death penalty?
WILLIFORD: I think I argued the law and it was clear by the way I argued what I asked for.
QUESTION: What about Park Dietz's testimony? Did that kind of impeach the state's credibility with what happened, the amount of money that the state spent and then to have his testimony called in to question like that?
WILLIFORD: I think Park Dietz did an excellent job. I think the question and the information was illicited by the defense. This wasn't something he volunteered.
WILLIFORD: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Did you at all address him or cross-examination of him as far (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what television shows they watched?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
WILLIFORD: And you did, didn't you?
QUESTION: And there was nothing more just than to ask what they watched? There was anything...
OWMBY: Whenever we have a witness, we get all the information that we can because we don't know what is going to come up in the future.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe, step up to the microphone. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Step to the microphone.
QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I mean, that it wasn't illicited, a lie wasn't elicited by the defense, but did they ask about the program and that he lied. How do you respond to that?
OWMBY: What are you saying?
QUESTION: He said that it was a lie, that there was...
OWMBY: They said -- well, they said that the statement was not true. And that's the sentence in the absolute sense. A lie usually implies that it was something intentional. He made a mistake. He works on a couple of shows for "Law and Order." He's worked on many, many cases that involve this type of crime, philocide (ph). And he was confounded. Now, I'm saying that because that's what he told me. He was confused and made an error.
QUESTION: Why did you bring it up in closing?
QUESTION: Why did you bring it up in closing?
OWMBY: Why did I bring it up in closing? He didn't tell me that before I brought it up in closing. But he's told me that since then.
QUESTION: Joe, the prosecution team didn't seem to be as aggressive as it could be in trying to convince the jury that she would be a continuing threat. Why is that? Why didn't you call witnesses to put on for that issue? Was that conscious? Would you have rather seen her get a life sentence?
OWMBY: Well, we put -- we put on I think it was three days of testimony about the horrendous nature of this crime. My argument in closing was that if you met anybody on the street and all you knew about them was that they killed five people, I believe you could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that they would be dangerous in the future. So there's no use else to bring in an expert to say that someone that kills five people may be dangerous in the future.
QUESTION: This is a special case, though. This is not, this is a woman who has a mental problem who we expect would be locked up if she gets a life sentence. I mean, simply put, did you not want a death penalty for this woman?
OWMBY: I wanted what -- the jury to reach a correct and just verdict and that's what they did.
QUESTION: Why did you stop short of asking for the death penalty?
QUESTION: Why did you stop short of asking for the death penalty?
OWMBY: Because I did not think the facts and the evidence warranted me recommending this jury a death penalty in this case.
QUESTION: Joe, we have not been able to talk to you until now. But outside of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), this case was a battle of the medical experts. How would you respond? Would you agree with that?
OWMBY: Well, what we told the jury in voir dire, and this is true of all cases, it's not really a battle of the experts. The question of sanity is a question of common sense and what the jurors' expectations are. The experts are there to help them frame or help present the evidence from the medical side. In other words, the jurors can't say that this is a severe mental disease or defect. But lay people can tell you whether they believe a person knew right from wrong at the time.
QUESTION: Mr. Owmby can you...
QUESTION: Russell Yates, in this case, they said what is his role? What was he doing? What do you think about Russell Yates and his role that he played, if any, in allowing this to happen?
OWMBY: I don't think about Russell Yates.
QUESTION: Do you think it's possible that he could face...
QUESTION: How can you not think about Russell Yates?
OWMBY: It's a conscious effort.
QUESTION: Can you rule out any other prosecutions in this case, specifically of Mr. Yates or any of the doctors involved?
OWMBY: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Can you, right now, rule out any further prosecution in this case of either Mr. Yates or any of the doctors involved?
OWMBY: I don't want to give you the impression that I know something about any investigations, but it is against our policy to comment on what may be investigated in the future or what may be being investigated now. So I can't comment on that question at all.
QUESTION: Got any further prosecution, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chuck, can you talk to us? Does Russell Yates have some legal liability?
CHARLES ROSENTHAL, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Well, again, actually it's not just an office policy. It would be unethical to talk about any other persons in this case or what may happen or what may not happen. So I won't answer that question.
QUESTION: Based on your previous experience, what do you think should happen?
ROSENTHAL: You are asking me the same thing a different way and I can't answer that.
QUESTION: How confident are you this will stand up on appeal?
ROSENTHAL: I'm sorry. What did you say?
QUESTION: How confident are you this verdict will stand up on appeal?
ROSENTHAL: Well, since I didn't see one minute of testimony, I can't really comment on that. I know I have got some excellent persons. I know Judge Hill was very careful in her rulings and generally that equates to an affirmance.
QUESTION: Mr. Rosenthal, Texas and Houston took a lot of heat from people around the country who thought that the capital -- the guilty sentence on the capital punishment was just wrong and that somehow, Harris County and you as DA were just bloodthirsty, so to speak. What are your thoughts on that, that the rest of the country sort of just had very negative things to say about Harris County?
ROSENTHAL: Well, you know, the various parts of the country have had some great things to say about it, too. And I think this is exactly what we predicted from the very first, that we ought to have a jury listen to the facts and make a determination. In my mind, if a jury follows their oath, listens to the fact, makes their determination, whatever verdict they would have come out with, whether it had been not guilty by reason of insanity or the death penalty or life in prison, is exactly the right thing to do. I have great faith in the jury system.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with them saying though, that Texas has the impression -- there was a headline the other day that said "Only in Texas." How would you respond to that, that only Texas would convict an ill person, a mentally ill person?
ROSENTHAL: Well, I've responded to several e-mails that said that and said, you know, you are not someone who is pledged to listen to this case, to discard your biases. And taking an oath to do that, the jury heard the facts in this case. They saw the facts in the case. And they saw them from a better position than any of you all did. So I think when you criticize a jury for not doing something wrong, they are way out of line about that.
QUESTION: Did you have a chance to talk to the jury after the verdict? Can you talk about what...
WILLIFORD: All I did is I thanked the jury for the service. I think it would be wrong for anyone to question what they did because those 12 people that represent our county heard the evidence. They heard everything from an objective standpoint. They were selected by the defense and the state. We agreed on them to hear the evidence. And I think it's wrong for anyone that has a distorted perception of evidence to come in and criticize the jury because they did their job. This was very difficult and very emotional for them and I think it should be respected.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) did you have a chance to talk to the jury?
WILLIFORD: Yes, I did.
QUESTION: Is there any one piece of evidence that was important in their coming to their verdict or in the punishment phase?
WILLIFORD: We didn't talk about anything like that. What we did is we went back. I think they are eager to get home, get back to her families and back to their life. We talked to them about -- we went back there with the defense, thanked them for their time and, you know, just told them how much we appreciate it. But we didn't talk about any facts of the evidence. No, we didn't.
QUESTION: Twice during crucial parts, you brought up the children. You brought up the pictures today, and then the other day you asked them to think for three minutes, as long as it would take for each child to lose consciousness in the bathtub. Do you think that brought home a point to the jury not to forget these children? Do you think that was the turning point?
WILLIFORD: I have no idea because I didn't talk to the jury about that. To me, that was very important because it's very important to realize what these children went through. You know, everyone has talked about trying to make this a womans' issue, a political issue. But the issue needs to be that there are five dead children and none of those children had an opportunity at life. None of those children chose to die. They all fought for their lives and they should be the focus and remembered appropriately.
QUESTION: Do you think that Texas law on insanity adequately handles complexities of mental illnesses?
WILLIFORD: Yes, I do, because someone can be mentally ill and still know right from wrong. Someone can be mentally ill and still make choices. And to say because someone has a mental illness, they should be excused from any criminal responsibility is wrong.
QUESTION: Did you recommend the death penalty to the jury?
WILLIFORD: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Did you recommend the death penalty to the jury?
WILLIFORD: I think I did recommend the death penalty to the jury. I think I did recommend the death penalty to the jury.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in the verdict then?
WILLIFORD: So, no, I'm not disappointed at all. Just like I told the jury, whatever they chose, whatever they decided to do, they heard the evidence and they speak for the citizens of Harris County. It's their decision. And I have great respect for their verdict.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) aggressive as you could have been. Was that a conscious decision by the prosecutor's office not to be quite as hard and aggressive on the death penalty?
WILLIFORD: I had no limitations on how I could argue my case. And I argued and I spoke and I said what I thought was appropriate.
QUESTION: If you had to go it over again, would you ask for the death penalty?
WILLIFORD: I think I did ask for the death penalty.
QUESTION: No, I meant if the trial was starting over, based on what you know now?
WILLIFORD: Yes, I would.
QUESTION: I realize, obviously, you are very experienced and a professional and you talked about this as not a womans' issue. But the fact that you were a woman prosecuting the case, do you think that perhaps made any difference?
WILLIFORD: Made any difference how?
QUESTION: I'm asking you.
WILLIFORD: As a mother?
QUESTION: Just because -- you know, as a mother, as a woman. And, again, I realize you are an experienced professional.
WILLIFORD: Well, I mean, I have been a mother and I have been a prosecutor always as a mother. So I think every case, you have -- I mean, I don't know how to answer that. I try my cases based on the evidence and based on the facts and that's what I did in this case.
ROSENTHAL: I was asked -- there were a couple of misstatements that were printed, at least, that I would like to clarify. We didn't charge the other two children's deaths not because we could come back later and do anything about it, because obviously we are precluded from law by doing that. If we get an answer against us on any special issue, we can't come back and seek a death penalty. If she had been found not guilty by reason of insanity, the burden then shifts to us and we would have to prove that she is sane to have committed the offense. So the only reason we withheld the indictments on those two children was a tactical one so we could still use the grand jury subpoena power if we needed it.
QUESTION: So, but you could still -- you used all five of the children in the testimony and in the questioning?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, let's get the other people.
HEMMER: Prosecutors taking a flurry of questions there from reporters outside the courtroom. I heard a police officer say, get the next group in here. That could be the defense attorneys following right along there. But quickly to Cynthia Alksne. There is a lot of questions there to prosecutors about whether or not they truly wanted the death penalty in this case. I'm curious your read on that. Did you get a similar gauge watching and listening to this trial?
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I thought the female prosecutor was the most interesting. When they kept saying to her, why didn't you recommend the death penalty. And she said I did recommend the death penalty. And that was my feeling listening to her argument.
HEMMER: Cynthia, I apologize. Back to Houston, defense attorneys now as promised.
WENDELL ODOM, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And I'll start this off by introducing everybody. Of course, there's -- we will have with us the Kennedy family, who is going to come out in a minute. We have got our entire staff that were very thankful towards, my sister, Molly Odom. Of course, our staff, Mary and Winny (ph) Howard.
But if I'm going to make a statement, I guess the first thing I want to say is this. This was a difficult defeat for us, but we, if anything, at least raised certain issues in the mind of the public. And if we did that, then at least our defense hadn't been in vain. And I can't tell you how much we appreciate the medical community, how they stepped forward, all the help from Houston doctors that we got; Dr. Rosenblatt, Dr. Ringholtz (ph), Dr. Puryear, of course, Dr. Lauren Meringel (ph), the whole list of doctors that stepped forward on an issue that is incredibly difficult. And we are glad this is over.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) when the verdict was announced?
ODOM: Andrea had a hard time figuring out what it all meant because it wasn't in a sense of life or death. It's in a sense of yes and no to special issues. And she was confused as she has been through this whole process to a lot of things. And what she said was trying to figure out what the verdict was.
QUESTION: When you explained to it her, how did she feel about it?
ODOM: There was no comment. I think that Andrea is relieved, of course. But Andrea is not a vocal person. She's medicated. She, because of that, doesn't express a lot of emotion. Probably doesn't express a lot of emotion any way.
QUESTION: How about sentencing?
ODOM: We don't know, probably early next week. I would, at this time, however, like to introduce Dr. Puryear and, of course, Mrs. Kennedy is here and George is here. But I'd like to introduce Dr. Puryear because of the contribution that she and everyone in the Houston medical community has made towards us.
DR. LUCY PURYEAR, YATES' PSYCHIATRIST: I don't have much different to say other than what I have been saying all along, that this is an issue about mental illness and I feel very passionately about the treatment of the mentally ill. I feel very passionately about changing the laws in Texas and about educating the public about the affects of mental illness. This was a tragedy that never should have happened and I spend my professional life trying to keep women safe and keep women well. And postpartem depression and postpartem psychosis is a huge issue. And I just really appreciate the opportunity. Hopefully, we can go from here and speak out and shout.
QUESTION: Miss Williford said that she was satisfied that the insanity law in Texas adequately handles mental illness. What is your response?
PURYEAR: The statute says you have to know the difference between right and wrong. And you can be totally illogical, irrational, and if somebody asks you, do you know it's illegal to kill someone, you can answer yes. That doesn't mean you are sane. And so the way the statute is written almost makes it impossible for us to give anyone the insanity defense. The law is not congruent with the concept of mental illness. It's just impossible.
QUESTION: So how does it need to change?
QUESTION: How do you think Andrea will fare now in prison?
PURYEAR: I spoke with her briefly yesterday. She's actually doing OK. Because of the amount of medication she's on, she doesn't really have an emotional understanding of what is going on. But she is free from psychosis at the moment, so her mind isn't being tormented any longer.
I think she feels somewhat at peace because she's probably as well as she's been ever since the birth of Luke, which was in 1999. So in some regards, she's doing quite well. But she's also still quite impaired and I think as long as she stays on medication, she will do well. Andrea has a remarkable ability of -- people like her and she's very kind and very caring and very helpful. So I think she'll do as well as could be expected in this situation.
QUESTION: What's your expectations of her ability to do well in the Texas prison system?
PURYEAR: Well, the Texas prison -- the Texas prison system, from everything I hear, can be a scary place. I can only hope that she's going to go to a unit where there are psychiatrists who know about taking care of people with mental illness and she'll get adequate treatment. QUESTION: How does Andrea perceive what she did now, now that she's not in psychosis?
PURYEAR: That's hard to answer. I don't know that she has a real emotional understanding of what happened. Part of that is the amount of medication she is on, sort of has her blunted.
You have noticed her sitting in the courtroom not making much -- having much expression. And part of that is the medication. I think part of it is also protective. If you had to come to grips with what you had done, it would be hard to imagine how to live with yourself on a daily basis. So I think...
QUESTION: When talk with her, does she mention her children at all?
QUESTION: What does say about them?
PURYEAR: She loves them.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) said this morning that the worst kind of punishment was to have to live with this realization for the rest of your life. Do you share that sentiment, that this is going to be awfully, awfully tough for her?
PURYEAR: One of the tragedies of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis is that the mothers have thoughts about their children.
And can you imagine anything more tragic than giving birth to a child or a baby and also having intrusive thoughts about wanting to harm them?
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) You say she loves the children. How does she deal with the fact that she killed them?
PURYEAR: I think she's emotionally numb at the moment. I think she has a hard time conceptualizing what has happened.
QUESTION: Will she be on a suicide watch?
PURYEAR: I don't know.
Let me let you all speak to Mr. Parnham, who I admire greatly.
GEORGE PARNHAM, ATTORNEY FOR ANDREA YATES: All I can -- well, not all I could say -- but part of what I will say is to thank you the media for being patient with us throughout the course of this trial.
And, also, you are our vehicle to get a message across about mental illness to not only the members of this community, but, apparently, this case is pretty much being monitored throughout the world. As far as I'm concerned, the most positive outcome of this case is that Americans have witnessed firsthand, in a most extreme and painful example, the plight of the mentally ill.
I encourage everyone whose heart aches for Andrea Yates and her family and her deceased children to go beyond your feelings of pain and anger and frustration and instead take the time and effort to write your elected officials requesting a fair and compassionate treatment for those who suffer from mental illness.
Laws must be passed which will allow us to inform the jury that it is possible to find a defendant not guilty without the fear that he or she will ever be returned to society. Specifically, mentally ill patients should be placed in secure mental institutions where the cause and evolution of their illness can be thoroughly studied to prevent similar acts in the future.
Andrea yesterday passed me a note that she had composed back in the holdover cell before I escorted her out into the courtroom. And I think, basically, it says it all.
She writes a thank you note to Dr. Osterman (ph), Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Puryear, and her lawyers, Mr. Odom and I. She thanks the people on her treatment team: the nurses, Chaplain Archer and her counselor, Gene Garcia (ph).
And she writes a note to her family: "To my family, Rusty, mom," her brothers Patrick, Brian (ph) and Andy, her sister Michelle, Rusty's mom Dora (ph), she thanks them for their love and support. And she writes a note to her dear friend Debby (ph) for "our special friendship." She thanks God for all the prayers from others. And she tells her family that she loves them and she is sorry for the pain that she has caused them.
She notes that she regrets that this illness brought her to a place where she was capable of killing her own children: "Noah, he was my firstborn. He was so inquisitive. And his favorite thing to do was hatching monarch butterflies. John, with his cute grin, he loved to do crafts and was very enthusiastic. Precious Paul, nurturing and loving, he sought to please us and be special friends to his brother.
"Beautiful Luke, trying to keep up with his brothers, he also was nurturing, especially to his baby sister. And beautiful Mary, such a loving baby with the big blue eyes. I thank God I was blessed with such a precious family."
Those are unsolicited comments on the part of Andrea Yates, which speaks so significantly and so deeply to how she feels and felt about her children and the terrible illness that beset her that caused her to take their lives.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mrs. Kennedy, were you able to say a word to your daughter? Mrs. Kennedy, it may have been your words yesterday that...
PARNHAM: I think Patrick will speak on behalf of the family. Thank you.
PATRICK KENNEDY, BROTHER OF ANDREA YATES: Good evening. My name is Pat Kennedy. I'm her brother.
I have got a few comments to make on behalf of her and my family, the first one being that we don't, as a family, believe that justice was accomplished here, because we believe a sick person has been sent to prison for 40 years.
On that note, we'd like to add that we hope that, in the future, because of the attention that this trial has received, that others -- other defendants that are in her condition will receive the compassion that she has received from some of you, but that they will receive the justice that we think she deserves. We don't believe that 40 years in prison is an alternative to treatment that she needs.
And I have talked to Andrea several times this week and in the past. And just to basically reiterate, what she has told me is that, to all the people who have lifted up prayers to her and my family, they are being answered. She wants you to know that and so do I, that her Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, is giving her comfort and strength in the place she's in right now. And I know he is for my mom and my family.
So, thanks again from our family and for her for your prayers, because he is the one who is getting her through this, with the help of the doctors. And that's about all that we have to say right now.
Do you want to add anything, mom?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll certainly second that, that we aren't real excited about the next 40 years of Andrea Yates in the penitentiary.
For the Telemundo people and any other Spanish-speaking press, we have an associate here, Lee Garerro (ph). And if you would like to, she can address you in Spanish.
Other than that, I think that's it. Thanks.
HEMMER: Again, defense attorneys there taking questions, so, too, a family representative, a brother of Andrea Yates.
Perhaps the most touching moment of there came in this letter that Andrea Yates penned some time in the past 24 hours, describing her five children and what they meant to her in a letter to her attorneys given there just yesterday.
Andrea Yates described as confused and emotionally numb by her attorneys there. And you heard the defense attorney say a difficult defeat, they say. But they are proud that they believe they have raised some issues in the eye of the public.
That concludes our coverage right now of the Andrea Yates case. Again, if you are just joining us, Andrea Yates, the decision has been rendered by the jury. She will spend the rest of her life behind bars, a minimum of 40 years before she is eligible for parole. I want to thank Gary Tuchman, Ed Lavandera working the story there in Houston, and also Cynthia Alksne with us, our legal expert from Washington.
I'm Bill Hemmer. Hope you have a good Friday. Back to TALKBACK LIVE and Arthel Neville after a commercial break here.
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RUSSELL YATES, HUSBAND OF ANDREA YATES: ... any kind of a speech or anything. I was just going to answer questions, reasonable questions, that is.
QUESTION: How are you feeling (OFF-MIKE)
YATES: Well, we are obviously very disappointed in the verdict of guilty.
All of us in our family, we all stand behind Andrea. None of us wanted her to be found guilty. All of us -- in fact, most of us were offended that she was even prosecuted. Obviously, we are -- it could be worse, I mean, if she had been given the death penalty, but it wouldn't have been that much worse.
QUESTION: This question has been asked over and over again. Didn't you see the signs?
I guess I'll go ahead and answer that question. She said, "Didn't you see the signs?" And people said, "Well, why did you leave her at home that day?" That's another way of saying it.
And a lot of people have talked a lot about personal responsibility in this. And what is the responsibility of a loved one when they have a sick family member? What's the responsibility of the family member who is sick? What's the responsibility of the doctor and the hospital and the insurance company?
And, Andrea, her responsibility in this was really just to take her medication, try to dress herself, take a shower when she could. She didn't really have much responsibility -- eat, drink. We relieved her of all other responsibility, mom and I did at home.
And that was -- our responsibility in this was to seek medical treatment for Andrea, which we did, and off-load her responsibility at home. So, mom and I cared for the kids that entire period. Neither of us saw any indication that Andrea was a danger during that period. She didn't step up and say anything that was so outrageous that we were -- that made us concerned. She just was quiet and stared ahead. And we...
QUESTION: Didn't her suicide attempt concern you?
YATES: That was in '99. But just looking at her, you see a person who is in a psychotic state -- and we didn't know she was psychotic. We just thought she was depressed.
But she was staring ahead. And you see -- we would see Andrea standing there and we would see her the same way we had always seen her. We knew how much she loved the children. And if she didn't say anything, we assumed she was thinking the same things she always thought. And so, no, we didn't see her as a danger.
The real question to me is: How could she have been so ill and the medical community not diagnose her, not treat her, and I'll say not protect our family from her?
QUESTION: Have you filed suit yet?
Let me finish that thought about protection. As a father, as a man, we bought this house. The first thing I did when we bought our house was have a fancy alarm system installed. I had alarms on every window, every door. And my responsibility is to protect our family from people outside our house. You never think you have to protect somebody from inside your house.
And it's really the medical community's responsibility to identify psychosis. I mean, I'm not a medical professional. I don't even know what psychosis is, to speak of. I know now, but I didn't then, not particularly -- but diagnose it and treat it. And if the person is psychotic, a family can't protect itself from a psychotic person.
You have -- like let's say the person wanted to kill themselves. Well, what can you do? If it's not one thing, it will be another. Yes, you can watch them and then they electrocute themselves or they throw themselves in front of a truck. They are going to succeed, the same thing with Andrea. She had delusional thinking. She was psychotic. She thought it was imperative that she kill the children.
And if it hadn't been by drowning when we were gone, it would have been smothering them at night or poisoning them at breakfast. It would have been some other way.
YATES: No, we didn't.
QUESTION: What are you going to do with the rest of your life now? Are you going to try to visit Andrea for the rest of your life? Or are you going to move on? How are you going to hold up? What are you going to do?
YATES: I'll always support Andrea. I don't know, practically, what's next.
I mean, it's kind of difficult being separate, not having companionship. We won't have any more children. That was always something important to us. That's difficult.
But I believe in Andrea. She's the kindest, sweetest, gentlest, most caring person I have ever met. And she is a victim here not only of the medical community, but the justice system.
QUESTION: Nevertheless, though, she killed your five children. And I'm wondering, have you ever honestly been angry with her from that day you walked home?
The only thing that gives me some concern about what happened -- obviously, we are all devastated at the loss of the children. But, as far Andrea's responsibility in this, the one thing that I'm not happy with is the fact that she never told me that she had had any thoughts of harming the children before. You know, if she had just said anything about that, we may have decided not to have any more children.
QUESTION: Mr. Yates, do you feel that you bear responsibility at all?
YATES: All right, I'll just finish the same line of thought. Why did we have another child? That's the other favorite question that I haven't been able to date because of the gag order.
First, we love children. That's one half of it. The second half of it is that, in 1999, it was very trying. We spent a long time -- first of all, Andrea -- I had no concept of depression. I didn't recognize it. I didn't know what it was. And Andrea got very seriously ill before we even sought treatment.
By the time we sought treatment, we had to because she had had a suicide attempt. So that was a mistake we made in '99, was not even being aware or recognizing the symptoms of depression. And the other problem we had in '99 was that the doctors took a long time to figure out what medicines worked for her. The psychiatrist, they will try front-line medicines that are medicines that are generally effective with most people and don't have a lot of side-effects.
And then, if they don't work, which takes three to six weeks to figure out, then they will try another set of medication. So they tried Zoloft and it didn't really help her. And then finally she got that injection of Haldol in Spring Shadows Glen, which -- it was miraculous. She went from being completely catatonic to up on her feet, caring for herself, eating, talking. It was a great turnaround.
And the significant thing there was that we knew what medicine worked for her. So, in '99, they told us -- they said, well, if you have another child, if Andrea has another child, then there's a 50 percent chance she will become depressed again. And, if she got depressed again, she would have the same symptoms and require the same treatment.
And those are the very two things that we had difficulty with in '99: recognizing the symptoms and knowing what treatment worked for her. So, we looked ahead and we said, well, if we have another child, there is a possibility that she would become sick again. But we knew that we could, I'd say, nip it in the bud by recognizing the symptoms early, getting treatment early.
And the doctor -- it was supposed to be an easy job for the doctor because all they had to do was give her the same medicine that worked for her in 1999. Unfortunately, they didn't. They never gave her the same combination of medicines that worked for her in '99 until after she was in jail.
QUESTION: Rusty, you have been criticized heavily through this trial and in news reports throughout the last nine months. How tough has that been for you to handle and how do you react to the criticism?
YATES: Well, that's a good question.
I have seen my family taken away, all my children, my whole family. If Andrea had got -- it's just as simple as if they had given her the same medicine that worked before, if they had left her in the hospital until she was well, any number of things in her medical treatment, this never would have happened. And I see that. I saw that from the day the children were drowned,
You know, I sat there and I said at my yard -- I'm like, "How could you do this? I don't understand" over and over and over again. I said it for two hours. And, finally, I stilled myself and answered the question. I said, "You couldn't do this." I know Andrea. She could have never done this. And then I started thinking, well, what could it be then?
I knew she was depressed. And I remember hearing from Dr. Starbranch in '99 that women who become depressed can become psychotic. And women who are psychotic can harm themselves or others. And she was taken off anti-psychotic medicine just two weeks before that. And I knew that. That's what I told the police in my police statement.
So I saw this terrible tragedy of my family. And then I see poor Andrea in this terrible medical state. And then the police, the state comes forward and says -- charges her with capital murder. And I couldn't believe it. And then the judge says "Oh, and by the way, even though you see this tremendous injustice being done to you by the hands of the medical community and then again by the hands of the state, you are not permitted to talk about it. And, if you do talk about it, I'll find you in contempt."
YATES: Let me finish.
Then, once the gag order is issued, people begin to speculate: "Oh, well, she had five children. And if I had five children, that would drive me crazy too," or "Look at this husband of hers. I bet" -- they just assume the worst.
And they try to explain what happened in terms of things that they understand. Everyone needs to know why this happened. I need to know why this happened. I want justice in this case more than anybody. But, unfortunately, most people don't understand the biochemical nature of depression. It's a biochemical brain disease that was mistreated in Andrea's case, let go until she developed this severe psychosis and believed things that weren't real and acted upon them.
QUESTION: With that, do you feel like you had wished you had done something differently over the course of the last year? Have you done any soul-searching over the last nine months?
YATES: Just to finish the other thought, I have, as the result of the gag order -- and that's why I say the gag order, not only was it unconstitutional, but it was personally injurious to me, because, not only did I see these tremendous injustices done to my family, my children and my wife, but then, also, I have to stand back and let people just basically vilify us and the whole family in the media for standing behind Andrea.
Do you really think that we would support Andrea if we believed anything other than she was psychotic on that day? I mean, if I felt it was for any reason other than the fact that she was insane, I would be the first in line to help the prosecution convict her.
QUESTION: What's your message to the jury that convicted her, then, that didn't believe she was mentally ill?
YATES: I thought about that.
I don't think -- it isn't that they didn't believe she was mentally ill. It's that the way the law is worded, it says, "Did she know that her conduct was wrong?" And the implication is, if she knew that her conduct was wrong, then she wasn't insane. Well, there's different ways to interpret that. And you will have to talk to people from the jury, but I suspect that they thought that if -- and I think the prosecution led them to believe that the law should be interpreted in such a way that, if any way she thought it was wrong, then she should not be found insane.
And, obviously -- well, she called the police, so they could make a case that, well, she thought it was illegal, which, in some sense, she thought it was wrong and, therefore, she should not be found insane. That's my simple take on it. They found very quickly. All they asked for was the definition of insanity and they played back one tape. I don't think they looked at it very carefully.
To me, the way I would have looked at it is -- and I think they could have found legally for Andrea, even given our lacking definition of insanity in this state. I think that they could have recognized that she never would have done this had she not been ill. She believed what she was doing was in the best interests of the children. As farfetched as that sounds, that was her delusional thinking. And, as a result of that severe illness, she thought drowning the children was right and, therefore, she couldn't have thought it was wrong. And I think they had the latitude within the law to find her not guilty by reason of insanity. But I believe the prosecution led them to believe that if in any way they thought -- if in any way she thought her conduct was wrong, she should be found sane and not insane.
QUESTION: ... about an insurance system that lets people out of the hospital sicker and quicker?
YATES: As a subscriber, my insurance plan says that we are allowed unlimited inpatient days. You take that and you think, well, that's a pretty good policy, right? I pay $100 admission fee and she stays in there until she's well. That's what you think as a subscriber.
What I have learned since is that there's a lot going on. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of -- every day, the insurance company calls the hospital and says, "Is she out yet? Is she out yet? Is she out yet? And why not?" It's a business. And that's what I have learned. It's a business.
And I'll make this advice to anyone. Anyone who has any mental illness, do not go to an HMO. Do not go to a preferred provider. Ask around and find a psychiatrist in the top 10 percent in your city and see them and pay the bill. Don't worry about insurance.
QUESTION: When you are by yourself...
YATES: Hold on.
Let the doctor treat you. Don't let some caseworker at an insurance company decide your treatment. Let the doctor decide your treatment.
QUESTION: Do you believe you have any personal responsibility in what's happened, you yourself?
YATES: If there's one -- I tend to be somebody that looks ahead and not behind. And to me, it's like, I can't change the past. I know that I did all I could going through.
Are there things -- say, if I could change one thing, what would it be? And it's just what I said. I would never have taken Andrea to the hospital and doctor that I took her to. They miserably failed us.
QUESTION: Is that a no?
YATES: I don't think that's a fair question, so...
QUESTION: Rusty, when you are by yourself, what do you say to your children? Can you share that with us?
YATES: That's a good question.
Usually when I pray, I'll pray for the kids and then I'll talk to the kids a little bit and just say hello. And I remember I saw it in one magazine article or somewhere, but I will ask them to pray for Andrea. I mean, they love their mommy. I know they don't hold this against her. They know that she was sick and they know that she loved them.
QUESTION: ... stood by her all this time?
YATES: She's thanked me for standing by her. It's important to her now to have support from people. She's cast into this.
It's like, my life has been taken away from me. It's even worse with her. I can go out to dinner tonight, if I want to, and travel the roads freely. Andrea will be in a cell and has been in a cell. And she's lost her children just like I have, but she has the terrible memory of what happened that day. And, I mean, it's terrible what she's gone tough.
QUESTION: Mr. Parnham (OFF-MIKE) that he wants this case to push the message that the laws need to be changed in Texas on insanity. Do you see a role for yourself in that?
YATES: I think it's a good idea. I think that it's too -- in Andrea's case, part of her delusion was being punished by the state. So, obviously, the law doesn't cover her very well.
QUESTION: Do you see yourself being an advocate (OFF-MIKE)
YATES: Let's let her go.
QUESTION: Are you planning on having more children?
YATES: Me personally? I don't know. Maybe.
QUESTION: Will you stay married to Andrea?
YATES: I don't know.
QUESTION: How are you going (OFF-MIKE) your life now that this trial is behind you? What are you going to do?
YATES: Well, it's kind of funny. It's almost like I'm -- I have my 20-year high school reunion this year and I'm just about at the same place I was when I graduated from high school.
I'm not very -- I say this. NASA is a great place to work, but it doesn't seem very significant to my anymore. I may retrain and do something else. For all practical purposes, I don' have a wife and I no longer have any children. So I'm really pretty close to where I was when I graduated high school, just, I know more now.
QUESTION: What is significant to you? You said work is no longer significant. Tell us what things are.
YATES: Boy, well, I think, if I did anything else, I would want to help people directly.
I don't think that I get as much satisfaction designing a piece of equipment that will fly on the space shuttle. And, sure, that may help people, but it's more indirectly. I think, in terms of medicine, legal and spiritual help, those are all, to me, more important, more interesting than what I have been doing.
QUESTION: Rusty, any word on what your plans are? (OFF-MIKE) Do you think that you would possibly turn around and sue the system or sue the doctor?
YATES: The doctors, quite possibly.
You can't do -- the district attorney's office is above the law. They are immune from civil suits.
QUESTION: Do you know where Andrea will be sent?
QUESTION: Thank you.
YATES: I guess we are about done.
HEMMER: It is difficult to imagine the feeling that Russell Yates has at this point.
That gag order that had been in place clearly lifted now, and Russell Yates speaking for the better part of 30 minutes there outside the courtroom in Houston, where obviously the rain is now coming down. Couple things he said early on were quite interesting. He said he was certainly disappointed, but then he was offended about the fact that Andrea Yates was prosecuted in the first place.
He later said things like it would have been worse had she been sentenced to die, but clearly expressing his opinion today that he feels Andrea Yates, in his words, is a victim of the medical community and of the justice system -- no indication, he says, that his wife Andrea was a danger to his children.
I'm Bill Hemmer. That wraps it from the Andrea Yates case in Houston, Texas. Once again, Andrea Yates will spend the rest of her life behind bars, eligible for parole after a minimum of 40 years time served.
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