The first time Russell Yates ever saw Andrea Kennedy, she was in the water. It was 1989, and he had spied her sunbathing in a bikini by the pool of the Houston apartment complex they shared. She hopped in for a swim, and he looked on in wonderment as she steadied herself with her toes against the pool wall and stretched out to float serenely on her back, her long brown hair making a slow swirl in the blue water and her arms outstretched like a cross. She seemed so at peace he thought she might fall asleep on that bed of water. He would later find out that she was a champion swimmer and had once swum around an island in Mexico. She loved to sail. She loved the water. As Rusty Yates now describes the woman he would marry in 1993, "she was a person who was more graceful in the water than out of it."
It is late into the night of the second day of 2002, and Rusty Yates is sitting in a Mobile, Ala., hotel room, traveling on his first vacation alone and trying to piece together thoughts of his marriage. The NASA computer engineer averts his memory from the image of water for a moment. But he cannot really avoid it.
On June 20, 2001, when the police reached his modest brick home on Beachcomber Lane in suburban Houston, they found Andrea drenched with bathwater, her flowery blouse and brown leather sandals soaking wet. She had turned on the bathroom faucet to fill the porcelain tub and moved aside the shaggy mat to give herself traction for kneeling on the floor. It took a bit of work for her to chase down the last of the children; toward the end, she had a scuffle in the family room, sliding around on wet tile below a poster that proclaimed the epithets of Christ: SAVIOR, SHEPHERD, BISHOP OF SOULS. She dripped watery footprints from the tub to her bedroom, where she straightened the blankets around the kids in their pajamas once she was done with them.
She called 911 and then her husband. "It's time. I finally did it," she said before telling him to come home and hanging up. He called back to ask what happened.
"It's the kids," she said.
He asked which of five.
"All of them."
Jury selection is now under way in one of the most sensational murder cases in years. Andrea Kennedy Yates, 37, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of capital murder, the drowning of her four sons and baby daughter. At issue in the trial is her mental state: her motives and her will. Her attorneys will argue that the killings were brought on by psychotic delusions, exacerbated by repeated episodes of postpartum depression. Prosecutors dispute the extent of her psychosis and plan to seek the death penalty if she is convicted, contending she knew right from wrong and that the massacre of five children was an intentional attempt to escape a life she could no longer live--and a husband she had grown to resent. While Andrea is the one on trial, the case will also bring scrutiny of her husband, her doctors, her mother and siblings. What did they know of her condition? And could they have prevented the tragedy?