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Russell Yates Holds Press Conference

Aired June 20, 2002 - 14:12   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take our viewers now to Houston, Texas where Russell Yates is addressing reporters there on this one-year anniversary of the death of his children caused at the hands of his wife, Andrea. Let's listen in to Russell Yates.

RUSSELL YATES, VICTIMS' FATHER: You know, when we have the children, you know -- the traumatic loss of our children -- I was able to grieve for part of a week, you know, at the beginning, about maybe up and through the funeral service, and then once I realized that the state was actually going to charge Andrea, then -- then it really -- I wasn't able to grieve the children -- none of us were, you know, none of our family was, the way we needed to, because we were caught up in a fight for Andrea's life, and really her quality of life.

I mean, it was ultimately her life, because the state sought the death penalty against her, but a lot of it was really the quality of her life. You know, is she going to be in a prison where she receives, you know, where, really, security is first and her medical treatment second, or in a mental hospital, where her medical treatment is first, and the security is second.

And, you know, unfortunately, you know, she's in a prison now. And that's another thing that's kind of tough to accept.

But, I guess, really, like I said just the reality is, our family died that day. You know, with the children.


YATES: I probably will. I probably will.


YATES: Andrea and I, the last time we talked was about two weeks ago. I think it was on the 8th. And we had, you know we had a good talk. In fact, we talked about some of these things. You know, where, I said, you know, I wish we could go back, you know, and have what we had before. And then, you know, I was crying at the time, I said, but we can't. You know, I mean, what we had is gone.

And she said, I wish we could go back too. And, I mean, we were -- we had, you know, just a happy family. Andrea and I have always had a great relationship. And we had beautiful children and just a nice family. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

YATES: We have some. We've had some moments over the last year where we've been able to fondly remember the children. And then there are other moments where, you know, we're crying over the children. So it's -- it varies, you know.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Is it unfortunate that she's not going to be allowed to have any visitors on this day?

YATES: Well, actually, Mr. Parnham called me and told he was going to go up and see Andrea today. And, you know, I asked him to give her a hug for me. I think that will mean a lot to Andrea, you know, that -- just to know that she has that support. I mean, she's not allowed visitors on week days and only one visit on a weekend.

But, fortunately, her attorney is able to visit her, and he's, you know -- he's a really good man. He really cares for Andrea. I'm really thankful that, you know, he -- that we have him as her attorney.

QUESTION: Now, from what you've heard, but from your conversations with Andrea, do you feel that she truly realizes her children (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

YATES: Andrea has really been in a confused, hurt fragile state since -- you know, since this happen. I think that early on she was psychotic. And then, as that cleared, she was really entered this confused, hurt state.

I don't think she's able to consider very many things at once. You know, sometimes she will reflect on the children and not think about the fact she's in prison and sometimes she'll, you know, think about the fact she's in prison and -- but really it's only pretty much -- she focuses on kind of one thing at a time and really not at a very great depth. It's really -- I think she's not in a very healthy state, medically, to really be able to consider a lot of -- all of what's happened.

Although I do know that she knows the children are gone, and that it was by her hands. And I know that she has some memory of that day, as well. And it's very, very hurtful to her.

I just can't imagine, you know, the pain that she has on a daily basis. It's...


YATES: No. Actually, you know -- you know -- I haven't been able to as much as hold her hand or give a hug or anything since this happened, and that's just, you know, to me, extremely cruel.

I mean it's a woman that has lost her whole family, you know. She needs comfort. She needs to be held and loved and just -- you know, the -- the -- you know, like every step of the way, they've treated her like a serial killer, you know, for no reason. You know, a hardened serial killer. And she's not.

I mean, she's a loving mother who become desperately ill and really did the unthinkable. And, you know, she's going to have difficulty trying to recover from this, you know, really, for the rest of her life.

I mean, she needs to get well medically and then, you know, that's difficult enough, but then the psychological battle is just -- Andrea has always been someone who is -- she's pretty hard on herself. And she really tends to look at her, like, works above heart, you know. That's something where we're a little bit different that way.

I try to look at people's intentions and why they did things. And she tends to look at what people do. And I think it's going to be hard for her to forgive herself for what's happened, even -- you know, and separate herself, you know, from the delusions that she had and from the actions that she took, you know, and the things that she did.

QUESTION: Do you feel that, now that it's been a year, from your perspective, any upside to all the national and international attention that's been paid? I mean, they were pretty invasive -- you know, the media around the country and around the world, pretty invasive to your family. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Do you feel that there's been any upside?

YATES: Well, to that part of it, no. But, on the whole, there can be. I think that if we, at a minimum raise the public awareness of her illness, you know, of the postpartum illnesses, psychosis. You know, that some people may now understand that, you know, mental illness -- a severe mental like psychosis can lead to a tragedy like this -- that people can see things that aren't real and hear things that aren't real and believe things that aren't real and act within that distorted reality.

In fact, in some sense act appropriately within in that distorted reality. And, of course, you know, behavior like this is, you know, obviously -- I mean, I'm not -- it's just like I said, an unthinkable tragedy and loss, but, you know, for the state, you know, their attitude is let's look at what happened and punish them for what they did.

And, you know, that's not justice. Justice is looking at why something happened and taking appropriate action. And they never -- they never -- I mean, they basically don't believe their own laws, that someone can -- that mental illness can be a reason for something like this to happen. And that saddens me, to think that, you know, I mean, if you go back and look at the commentary that the state has made to date on this case.

I mean, you know, you look at what Chuck Rosenthal (ph) said, all he talks about are that the children are gone, and he talks about how he holds people accountable for what they do, you know, and how he punishes murderers, you know. And all of that, the whole context of that, is what happened. They don't really know anything more than what happened the first day -- that the children are gone. And as tragic as that is, you know, justice doesn't mean, you know -- like, yes, it's terrible. Yes, it's horrible. But let's look at why it happened and take appropriate action and not arbitrarily, you know, punish everyone who does something wrong.

You know, that in Andrea's case, her illness caused this to happen. And you know, they never cared to look at that. They don't believe it. They never cared to look at it. I mean, when they went to the grand jury, they never talked to the jail doctor. You know, you would think that, like, a course of action, you know, as far as justice would go, would be to go talk to jail doctor and say how does she appear to you Dr. Ferguson. Oh, well she's the most psychotic person I've ever seen. Oh, is that right? Well, let's bring in a couple of experts to evaluate her and if -- local experts you know, competent, skilled people. Bring them in, you know, respected people in the community, bring them and evaluate her, and if they both say that she's insane, then let's send her to a mental hospital and save the taxpayers $1 million.

And if they both say that she's sane, then we have a stronger case against her. I mean, that's reasonable. But to believe the word of a police officer over the word of a psychiatrist is insane. I mean, you know, oh, she seemed OK to me. Like the police officer is a psychiatrist, or trained to recognize psychosis.

So, I really feel a huge injustice has been done here. And it's really hurt our family. I mean, it's you know, just -- it's hurt our family to see Andrea suffer as she has. And it's hurt -- you know, obviously hurt Andrea, when she's in a position where she needs compassion.

You know, we haven't been able to grieve the children the way we would like and need to. Really nothing, you know, on the surface, nothing good comes from the state prosecuting Andrea. I mean, it cost the state a lot of money. It's not what Andrea needs, in terms of treatment. You know, it causes the families -- the victims in this case, and everyone else, really, a lot of grief. And certainly doesn't do anything to prevent this from happening again.

I mean, you know, if we want to work, and what you were saying about something positive -- I mean, what we'd like to do is work to prevent this from happening again. And we'll prevent this from happening again by improving the standards of care for women with postpartum illness. That will prevent this from happening again. Or some of these from happening again.

And if it does happen again, which it will, then let's have a more appropriate response from the legal community and from the media and from the public at large. And, really, the only way we're going to get that response is through education -- through educating people on the reality of this terrifying disease, and let people realize that, you know, our children aren't the first to lose their life to this disease.

QUESTION: Over the past year, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sentiment out there that felt you should also be held somewhat responsible (UNINTELLIGIBLE) YATES: Well, it's hurtful. I mean, you know. And -- I mean, I think people -- they get -- it's an emotional situation. People get angry. People, you know, assume the worse. They look and they say, you know, well I've seen these problems in families before. You must have had those same problems. And it's not true, you know.

And a lot of, you know, the opinions that people have had and expressed, I think they're, you know, -- first, they're not factual. They're not logical or reasonable. And I think they're -- people have this need to express these opinions based on the fact that they like to think that this would never happen to them, or that their life is in control. Or that, you know, somehow when something bad befalls someone, that they're somehow to blame.

And, you know, the fact is -- and that's one thing I've learned in this, you know, throughout this tragedy, is that, you know, we're not in control. I mean, you know, our next heartbeat can be our last. And just be thankful for what you have, and thankful for the life that God has given us on this earth, and recognize that, you know, He can, you know, bless you, and He can take it away.

So, it's...

QUESTION: Rusty, in reminiscing about this (UNINTELLIGIBLE) come to understand (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

YATES: Not yet. I talked to some yesterday. Yes, in fact, several family members yesterday, and I was going to call them later today and talk with them about -- just to make sure they're doing OK, you know.

It's -- you know, I guess the -- they say that, you know, anniversaries are very difficult. And it has been a difficult time. This week has been difficult, just remembering, you know, a lot of flashbacks to what was going on that week. And just the time I spent with the children, and it's -- I'm sure it is for them too.

It's probably, in fact, true for a lot of people in the country who really were shocked and just, in some ways devastated by what's happened here, you know, the tragic loss of our children. And, you know, on the anniversary, you know, it is a reminder of that pain and...


YATES: Well, I mean, there have been some good things. You know, the support of the church has been good. The Church of Christ down the street here, has been wonderful. You know, the people at work have been great. Friends have really stepped up, even friends from the past that I haven't, you know, seen in 20 years, you know, have stepped up and really offered a lot of support.

I think -- I think being able to, you know -- you know, having the assurance that my children are safe, you know, that they are with God now and that they're safe and that I'll see them again. I mean, that means everything to me. I mean, that's -- that -- you know, I -- you know, part of the grief here is accepting that, you know, I won't -- in this age, in this life, I won't see them again.

But then, you know, this life is short. You know, whether it's five years or 50 years, you know, compared to eternity, this life is short. And I will be with them for eternity. And I, you know -- so that -- you know, that does give me some hope for future and something to look forward to.

And then, you know, with Andrea, you know, that's kind of like what I was saying before about things within your control and out. I mean, all you can do -- I used to say that to Andrea -- all you can do is all you can do.

So, you know, I know that I've done everything I can to this point to support Andrea and to help her. And although I don't like the result of the trial and where she's at today, you know, I know that I've done all that I can for her and that I'll continue to support her.

QUESTION: Rusty, you talked about fighting for her quality of life for Andrea, and the security (UNINTELLIGIBLE). How is her -- I know there's been an issue about her medical condition and the treatment she was getting in prison. Has that improved (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

YATES: Well, you know, on the 8th when I saw her, which was less than two weeks ago, she'd declined. Really, ever since she's been in the prison, she seems to have had some, you know, some loss of coherency. Her -- I know that her right leg, she is not -- doesn't quite have the same function as it had before, and her right hand is shaking, really uncontrollably.

Where -- when we were talking -- we had to talk through glass, you know, with phones and all the while we were talking, her hand was shaking. The hand that was holding the phone, her right hand was shaking. And she told me that it was shaking to the point where she couldn't write intelligibly, so that she couldn't send letters out to people, because of her medical condition.

And in addition to that, her vision was blurry. She said that she had to put a book five inches from her face in order to read it, and that was with her glasses on. So, it's not that her prescription has changed that much in three months. It's -- you know, it's a medical condition of some sort, either...

WHITFIELD: Russell Yates in Houston. It's hard to imagine what this man is going through. A visibly anguished Rusty Yates, who said that on this day, one year ago, on this day, his wife Andrea drowned his five children. He said on this day, one year ago, his family died.

Earlier this year, Andrea Yates was convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison. But Rusty Yates says just two weeks ago he saw his wife for the first time in a long time. He still was unable to touch her, to hold her hand, and he says that she certainly is the result of a great injustice. He says that she has not been receiving the right kind of medical attention from day one. However, he describes her as a, quote, "loving mother that became desperately ill and did the unthinkable." One year ago today, Rusty Yates, in his words, "his family died" at the hands of his wife.




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