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Andrea Yates' odyssey is the focus of a TIME investigation that included 40 hours of conversations with Rusty Yates as well as interviews with his wife's family and friends. TIME also reviewed hours of home videos and thousands of medical records, police files, autopsy reports and court documents. What emerges is a picture far different from that in the framed family photographs hanging in the hallway of the couple's home. It is a portrait of a fateful, tragic intersection of characters. Among them:
--A woman who had a vision of violence from the time just after her first child was born but who kept her demons secret to preserve the image of family and motherhood she and her husband treasured.
--A well-intentioned husband, strong willed yet seen as lacking empathy, who had the task of explaining his wife's mental condition to physicians as she lapsed into silence and catatonia.
--A psychiatrist who achieved a dramatic improvement in Andrea Yates' symptoms with antipsychotic drugs but whose warnings about the danger of relapse were not heeded by Andrea or her husband.
--An institutional doctor who missed opportunities to expand her treatment, halted her antipsychotic drugs and sent her home after only marginal improvement.
--Family members with a history of mental illness but little self-awareness of their shared syndromes. They had a vague sense of her problems but remained at a certain distance from her, despite harboring concerns about the way their in-law Rusty was handling the situation.
What becomes clear from the oral history and medical documents of Andrea Yates is that she did not simply snap but gradually came undone. Since her arrest, she has told detectives and court-appointed doctors things that her husband and psychiatrists say she managed to hide for months, if not years.
Rusty Yates denies contributing to her mania and maintains the strongest belief that she is innocent, that insanity led her to kill. "Andrea is a victim here. She has lived in a different world for weeks and weeks, months and months," Rusty says. "She is waking up, and this is her life now. Think of the trauma she has been through. What a cruel thing to do. Where's the compassion?"
On the dry-marker board Andrea used to home school their children, Rusty has drawn charts of her depressive episodes and hospital stays since 1999. He can cite studies in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology; he has read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. His wife's major depressive episodes, he says, are described on page 356. His obligation to support her, he says, goes beyond their wedding vows. "She wasn't just my wife. She's my best friend. And my friend's in trouble."