Just when I think I've heard it all, something else happens that makes me want to run screaming into the night. Russell Yates, the husband of convicted child-murderer Andrea Yates, has told the press that he "thinks he may have to sue those responsible for her medical care." He's not kidding; in the wake of his wife's trial, he has appeared everywhere from the "Today" show to "Oprah" to discuss his views.
If it were at all possible, Russell Yates should be charged with criminal neglect and stupidity. A prosecuting lawyer would not have to dig very far to find plenty of evidence against him. A defense lawyer could only plead gross ignorance on the part of his client.
Despite the fact that Andrea Yates had been treated for severe depression, postpartum psychosis, and schizophrenia, Russell Yates wanted to continue having "as many children as God gave them." A married couple's reproductive decisions should be a personal matter, but when one of the spouses is dealing with a debilitating illness, common sense should dictate that another baby would only increase the severity of the symptoms.
That is exactly what happened with Andrea Yates. One of her psychiatrists, Eileen Starbranch, noted in a report that "Andrea is talking of wanting off medications! She wants to get pregnant and have more kids. Apparently patient and husband plan to have as many babies as nature will allow! This will surely guarantee future psychotic depression." What was Russell Yates thinking? Perhaps that another child would suddenly make her happy?
He should have known better. In 1999, his wife took 40 trazodone tablets, an overdose of a powerful sedative that could have killed her. She survived because her mother found her in time to rush her to the emergency room. Later that year, Andrea tried to slit her own throat, but was discovered by her husband before she could kill herself.
After two such serious suicide attempts, one would think that a spouse would make sure that she took her medication faithfully and attended therapy sessions with her doctor. Russell Yates did not take responsibility for this; Andrea often skipped doses or threw her prescriptions away altogether. She also did not meet with her doctor on a regular basis. Part of her reasoning for staying off the medicine was that she didn't want the strong anti-psychotic drugs to harm her body in case she became pregnant.
Russell Yates also thought that it was fine that they lived in a converted Greyhound bus, which he described as a "350 square foot motor home." Yates has an $80,000 salary with NASA, so finances weren't the problem. He obviously thought that there was nothing wrong with leaving his suicidal wife in a bus while she home-schooled the oldest child and took care of three toddlers. He finally bought a home for his family when a social worker voiced concern over their living arrangements.
After her first suicide attempt, she was hospitalized under the care of Dr. James Flack.
He wrote, "Interviewed patient again this A.M. I also spoke to the patient's husband at length. They are requesting that she be discharged [from the psychiatric unit] to the family's care. They have agreed to watch her around the clock and are aware that she is at risk of harming herself again."
Russell Yates blithely ignored this report and went off to work every day. To make matters worse, they had another child, Mary. By this time, Andrea Yates had become completely psychotic and was describing hallucinations and voices. Yet Russell allowed her to be alone with the children, and we all know the tragic end to this story.
Some may argue that the responsibility for the children's deaths should fall only on Andrea's shoulders. I agree with the verdict and her life sentence, but those children belonged to Russell too. He had an obligation to ensure that they were safe, and by leaving them with his very ill wife, he made a fatal mistake.
Russell Yates has declared that the "medical professionals failed them" and now he will pursue litigation. There is some irony here; the doctors did everything in their power to help Andrea Yates, but it was her husband who ultimately failed her. How dare he try to make money from the senseless deaths of his five children.
(A mother and former schoolteacher, Kelly Carroll is a regular Journal columnist from Bourbonnais. Her column appears every Monday, and she can be contacted through this newspaper.)