In the trial of Andrea Yates for the murder of her children, it is the job of prosecutors to prove that no matter how deep her psychosis, she knew right from wrong. As the testimony is making clear, in the throes of her illness she lived for months with confused thoughts not only about right and wrong but also about good and evil--because she believed she was the devil.
Through bouts of post-partum psychosis, the images and catchwords of the Bible became ways for Andrea to express her mental darkness. She received no guidance from established religious institutions; she and her husband Rusty chose to home-church their family three times a week. She earmarked pages in her Bible about a mother's obligation to raise her children or face the consequences, and about the death penalty being the only way to get rid of demons inside. She came to believe that she had failed so badly to measure up to her own extreme ideals of motherhood (she thought the kids should say their ABCs by age 2) that, as she later told the jail psychiatrist, "the kids were destined to perish in the fires of hell."
Her fate depends on how the jury parses her knowledge of good and evil. The prosecution has argued that she contemplated the murders for two years and later showed signs of remorse, all proof of moral clarity. But the defense will try to show that her rationalization process was insane. The jail psychiatrist testified that upon her arrest, she said, "I was so stupid. Could I have killed just one to fulfill the prophecy? Could I have offered Mary [her youngest]?" The jury could begin deliberating the case--and the conundrum of Andrea Yates' mind--this week or next.
--By Timothy Roche