Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Talkback Live

Tragedy in Houston: What Should Happen to Andrew Yates?

Aired June 25, 2001 - 15:00   ET



RUSSELL FRIEDMAN, THE GRIEF RECOVERY INSTITUTE: As Russell Yates said so poignantly, "I know she did it, but it wasn't her." And I heard that line and it tore my heart out.



RUSSELL YATES: My wife is really suffering right now. I mean, everyone is, but you know, my wife, she's really suffering.


BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: But is there sympathy for Andrea Yates, the Texas woman accused of killing her five children?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have generated a society that seems to have a victim mentality.


BATTISTA: TALKBACK LIVE's e-mails go both ways.

"This woman is a mass murderer," says Carol from Houston, Texas. "Why is the press trying to excuse her with postpartum depression?"

But Juania from the Bronx in New York says she empathizes with Andrea. She says, "No one knows unless they've been there; it is hell."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that there are people praying across the nation for this family. And we're all that are involved with the heartache and the pain.


BATTISTA: What are your feelings?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE.

What were you thinking after you heard the details of how Andrea Yates told police she systematically drowned her five children? This tragic case seems to have struck an emotional chord nationwide. We've received tons of e-mail about it, and the chat room is virtually bursting at the seams.

Can postpartum depression cause a woman to go off the deep end and do something so outrageous? Does insanity describe Yates' condition, or is it a convenient defense?

Our first guest today are Catherine Crier, a Court TV anchor and host of "Crier Live."

Also, Pamela Hayes, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor. Welcome to both of you.

Hi, Bobbie.

BATTISTA: This is really a tough one, I have to tell you, and it really has generated an enormous response on this show in particular.

Catherine, first of all, we heard her lawyers say this morning, indicate -- he didn't say definitely -- but he indicated that he would probably go with not guilty by reason of insanity. How hard is that going to be to prove?

CATHERINE CRIER, "COURT TV" ANCHOR: It's very difficult, Bobbie. Most people are familiar with the generic legal defense of insanity, which is sort of knowing the difference between right and wrong, and we say as a result of a mental disease or the defect, if you didn't know the difference between right and wrong and then you may qualify as legally insane.

That rule though is quite outdated, given what we understand about psychiatry today. I had been one of those proponents for a very long time of a finding of guilty but insane, rather than not guilty be reason of insanity, in which way the courts may recognize various psychiatric problems that we now understand today and can find someone guilty and responsible but then treat them according to what they present.

And I don't think that there is any question, given the information I have only read, not presented under oath in the court of law, that this woman not only was suffering from postpartum depression, but you've got a history of mental disease that may or may not be related to the birth of that fourth child, for which she was receiving myriad antidepressants; tried to commit suicide, had all sorts of psychological problems, evidence to family and friends, so we are focusing on postpartum depression, but I think there is a much bigger picture here.

BATTISTA: Yeah, and I have to tell you, that is a narrow legal definition for the word "insane." And anyone in their right mind would look at this and say, anyone who could kill five of their children, or any of their children is insane. I mean, common sense just tells you that; doesn't it?

CRIER: It certainly does, Bobbie. The problem people have, I think a lot of people have, is that we talk about not guilty by reason of insanity, and we throw up our arms and we say, how in the world can we not hold someone responsible for this kind of an abomination?

Yes, the law should hold them responsible. And yes, that the law should essentially be able to lock them away for extended periods of time. But we have to recognize various reasons of this kind of behavior and treat that behavior accordingly, and I think we can do that by shifting the standard to one of guilty, but insane.

BATTISTA: Pam, if you were her attorney, what would you attempt to show?

PAMELA HAYES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I would probably try to show that she didn't understand the nature or the consequences of her actions, or that it was something about this illness that preventing her from understanding what she was doing was wrong.

The problem here is not so much that a person is guilty -- the law says that we only punish people who don't know what they're doing or who do know what they're doing. In this case, I think the lawyer needs to argue that the client is ill, and is really not responsible for what he or she did.

BATTISTA: You know, the lawyer this morning, I heard him say that he -- that he described his client as being in a deeply psychotic state. He also said that he had not been able to even have a rational conversation with her yet. Is that something that he can use, or will he pass that onto the judge or...?

HAYES: That is different. If she's incompetent to proceed, that is different from being criminally insane at the time of the act. If she cannot communicate with her lawyer and help in her defense, she cannot move forward, and the court will not allow her to move forward.

So what they have to do is have a psychiatric examination, so that the court can understand what's going on. And if she can help in her defense, then they're going to have to postpone all of the legal proceedings until she is able to participate and work with her lawyer.

BATTISTA: Catherine, you were a judge in Texas. What's the -- what's the track record of an insanity defense in that state?

CRIER: Not good. Not good. It's a very difficult defense actually in most states, although, there have been several rulings -- California, which everyone points to -- is a state that tends to push the envelope a bit in terms of legal defenses who has accepted postpartum depression.

There's been another verdict I believe in 1998 in another state where it was accepted to look at a lesser included offense, rather than capital murder. You can move down to manslaughter and other lesser included offenses. But in the state of Texas, it's very -- very difficult to prove and I think that the case like this is one of those where we ought to step back and examine the standard.

What defense council was just saying, of course, we have this competency hearing that will occur, but even competency rulings are quite extraordinary. I am sure your viewers remember the Lionel Tate case, the 12-year-old in Florida who used the wrestling maneuvers and injured a little girl, terribly, terribly. Well this 12-year-old was deemed competent to -- to discuss matters with his attorneys, so it's rare that you are incompetent.

And if you are, the judge can simply order that she take those antidepressants, stabilize her mental condition, and she can proceed forward. So, it may have little effect on the trial itself, as to her present condition.

BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience here quickly, just to give you a sampling of how this story hits people differently. Let me go first up to Stacy.

STACY: Hi. I think that she should get the capital punishment. She was in her mind well enough to know that she needed to call 911. She called her husband at work to let him know what she had done. Somebody in their not right mind probably wouldn't have been able to make those phone calls. She knew what she was doing, even though she may have not been mentally stabile at the time she committed it.

BATTISTA: She brings up a good point about those phone calls; Stacy brings it up, Pam, about those phone calls made to both the police and her husband right after this was committed. I mean, a lot of people have brought that up and said that these appear to look like rational acts, so how can she be like sort of nuts one minute and lucid the next?

HAYES: It all goes to the weight of the situation. We can't say, for example, whether she was or she wasn't. That's an evaluation that the court is going to have to make, or that the jury's going to have to make. Whether it's a judge trial or a jury trial.

But what you have to do is you have to examine all of the facts. And then you have to come to the conclusion. Just to make a snap judgment, oh, well she must have been rational, because she was able to do this and that. We don't know. We have to wait. And that's what the purpose of an insanity defense is.

And it's not utilized a lot. It's not just something that lawyers make up and may get over and people wait. It's a very serious matter, because the bottom line is: The law doesn't punish people who are not rational. You know, someone who is sick, you just not going to punish them. Re-help those type of people.

CRIER: Oh, how can we say that, Bobbie? Because a good portion -- some studies will say a quarter to a third of the inmates now in our penitentiaries are mentally ill in some form or fashion. Because the law is so strict as to its definition, we make very few exceptions. Yes, this woman was acting in a manner, answering phone calls, talking to the police, telling them she killed her children. That would give us every indication she knew the difference between right and wrong.

Therefore, to proceed forward with an insanity defense, ultimately you have to lie to the court and the jury, you have to manipulate the evidence, because there may be in fact a serious psychosis that doesn't fit under our present legal definition of insanity.

BATTISTA: Let me run though some of the e-mails that we've gotten over the last couple of days on this story, and I'm getting a ton more today.

Jackie in California says: "I am a mother of two with one on the way. Any mother who has more than one child knows which feelings are normal and which or not. She should have recognized that and gotten help. I have no sympathy for her. They need to go ahead with capital punishment charges. Why should she get help now? It's too late."

Conner in Virginia, though, says: "I experienced the darkness of postpartum depression. It was devastating. I'm here today because of my loving, supportive family and a physician who recognized the symptoms and forced my family into seeking the appropriate treatment for me. My sincerest sympathy to Andrea Yates and the family."

And that is what we're getting an awful lot of. Most of the support for Andrea Yates, or the sympathy, if you will, Pam and Catherine, is coming from women who have gone through severe postpartum depression.

CRIER: Marie Osmond -- I believe she may have been on CNN; I know I caught her talking about the subject in the last couple of days -- has even written a book about the serious nature of her own postpartum depression.

But you also, as I said earlier, have a history of this woman that's beginning to filter out about a father that had Alzheimer's, about how she was the only child that daily cared for him while caring for five children, about a husband that decided she should quit her nursing job and stay home and care for these children. She should home-school them, an alienation from neighbors, a tendency not to ask for help while she was burdening herself with care for a number of people, including her five children. So there is a history we need to look at and let your viewers declare.

I'm not at all saying, you know, find someone not guilty, open doors and allow them out. There is punishment to be had, but a recognition of a obvious problem and some mitigation, I think, is necessary.

BATTISTA: And are all the thing that we keep learning about this home situation, Pam, is this likely to make the jury's -- the jury that might be picked more or less sympathetic?

HAYES: Well, a lot of it is going to depend on the type of expert witnesses you have. First of all, what the jury has to do is they have to be open to hear about the disease, the different case studies, what can happen. And once they have that expert testimony, then they have to apply it to the facts of the case, because if it doesn't fit in with what the experts are saying, they're going to find that she was sane, and therefore, guilty of killing these five children.

And you know, you just have to wait until you hear everything. It's just very difficult to base things on an emotional thing.

BATTISTA: I've got to take a quick break here and we'll come back with more e-mails and more audience. The question today: How often does a tragedy like this occur? It is more common than you might think. We'll talk with the author of "Mothers Who Kill Their Children" right after this.



GEORGE PARNHAM, ANDREW YATES' ATTORNEY: She is suffering at this moment from the depths of an acute psychosis. She is being treated mentally by the staff psychiatrist and I am certain receiving anti- psychotic medication. She is on a 24-hour acute suicide watch. There is a qualified mental health person with her 24 hours a day.


BATTISTA: A couple of more e-mails coming in here. Carol in Houston says: "This is a very sick woman. She needs help. It is a shame more people can't understand this. You really have to go through it before you believe it can happen."

Tara in New Jersey says: "Andrea Yates is not a victim. The five children she murdered are. The fact that we protect criminals more than victims in this country is sickening."

Christine, you had a comment you wanted to make here real quickly.

CHRISTINE: I just wanted to say that I think as tragic as this incident is, it should serve as a wake-up call to the medical profession, because look at how many years it took before they recognized that PMS was a legitimate condition and not just something women said happened to them each month. I think they turned -- having gone through this myself, I think that they just turn you out. You have the baby. The insurance company says you have a baby today, you're out hours later if it's, quote, "a normal birth."

Usually with PMS (sic), it starts maybe two to three days after. I remember having no control over my emotions. I was in a black hole of despair. Fortunately for me, it clicked within a week or so, and I was back to normal to care for my two children.

But I think that, like I said, it's tragic, but maybe it will serve as a wake-up call to the medical profession.

BATTISTA: Good point. Let me bring someone else into the conversation now. Joining us is Michelle Oberman, a law professor at DePaul University and co-author with Cheryl Meyer of the book "Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Inside the Minds of Moms From Susan Smith to the 'Prom Mom.'" That book, by the way, will be coming out in August.

Thank you very much for joining us, Michelle. I appreciate your time.


BATTISTA: What did you learn when you tried to go inside the minds of mothers who kill their children.

OBERMAN: Well, it's exactly as your guest Christine just said. What you find with these cases is that over and over again there's a sense of the -- of the system having failed. And it's not that these women are completely blameless; it's that there is so much blame to go around. But everybody looks at these cases in retrospect and says, oh, my god, this is a preventable death. These children are innocent victims and at any step along the way their deaths could have been prevented.

BATTISTA: I'm just going through more e-mails that I'm getting, and I might as well do a couple of them, because they're just rolling in here. I have this one, and Mike, it's No. 5 if you want to pull it up on the screen here. This is one we got a couple of days ago.

Ginger in New York says: "I have gone through postpartum depression, been on antidepressants, even thought about killing myself, but never, ever did I have the urge to harm my children. She killed five children one at a time. I'm sure they all struggled as hard as they could. She should not be excused."

The sympathy that people are feeling -- and I don't know if sympathy is even the right word, Michelle -- that people are feeling for Andrea Yates, is it because we need to blame something or someone that's tangible and rational for an act like this, and when we can't, it frightens us?

OBERMAN: I think that's right. I think what happens is when you're faced with such a horrible, horrible set of deaths, such a terrible tragedy we want -- we want the easy road. We want to find the individual that we can blame so that we don't have to really examine the ways in which all of us might have some blood on our hands.

And to be fair, when I was doing research -- the research that went into my book, it was an amazing consistency that women that I spoke to about the research project -- and this is a fairly grim project -- would say to me, almost in confidence, you know, there but for the grace of God go I. There were days when, at six weeks, when I hadn't had any sleep and the baby was screaming, the doorbell rang at just the right time, and had my friend not stopped by, had I not had money for a baby-sitter, had I not had my mother living nearby, I don't know what would have happened.

CRIER: Well... BATTISTA: Catherine, I am sorry, go ahead. It's an interesting point that you raise, and I am just curious legally, what would a lawyer do with that, Catherine?

CRIER: Well, in fact in England, postpartum depression is recognized as a standard defense. I mean, we have over 200 babies killed by their mothers every year in this country. This does happen; it doesn't always make national headlines. We do have a condition that is recognized in the medical profession. And again, excusing the behavior, we need to be careful with the semantics, is not what should be done. Understanding it and responding to it accordingly is -- is the appropriate response.

Justice is looking at a case and all of its circumstances and trying to respond to those circumstances, not applying a single blanket law to every murder that comes down the pike, because we know that there are differences, there are self-defense cases. There are duress cases. Circumstances such as this.

Now psychiatry can tell us that there are circumstances where a psychosis may let someone know the difference between right and wrong. But make their behavior uncontrollable. That is sort of irresistible impulse that does not necessarily qualify as legal insanity.

BATTISTA: Let me take a phone call from Deborah here in Oklahoma. Deborah, go ahead.

CALLER: My daughter had a baby on June 3rd, 2000. The same day, my mother, her grandmother, was on the way to the hospital for the birth of her second baby. My mother had a heart attack and died before the baby was born. Two months later, my daughter's four-year- old child was diagnosed with precocious puberty.

A month later, my daughter turned 30. She cried for days of turning 30. Obviously this young woman has gone through a tremendous amount of stress in the last year.

Let me ask you something, Deborah; is your daughter getting help?

CALLER: That's the point of my call. She refuses to get help.


CALLER: She lost probably 60 pounds. She is looking anorexic; she is hearing voices.

BATTISTA: Why does...?

CALLER: My son-in-law has talked to 10 lawyers. Every social worker in our local DHS department.

BATTISTA: Are you...?

CALLER: Plus...

BATTISTA: Are you -- let me ask you something here: are you concerned about the welfare of your grandchild?

CALLER: I keep the five year-old -- the little four year-old is now five -- I keep her with me, at least five out of the seven days a week. We're terrified to leave her with both children. And...

CRIER: Bobbie, she has the chance to go look for an involuntary commitment, depending on what state she is in, and what the laws are, it may be that involuntary commitment for a short period of time, would allow this woman to receive some treatment and see that help, probably medication, is available.

CALLER: The attorneys that my son-in-law have contacted and we've even had the police out to the house a couple of times, until she actually exhibits any signs of violence towards the children or herself, there's nothing anyone can do. She has to voluntarily go get this help, and we can't get her to.

HAYES: That is the criminal aspect of what you are talking about. What the judge...

CRIER: Mental health courts.

HAYES: Yeah, you need to civil court or surrogates court or whatever court deals with minors and children in your jurisdiction and file a petition. It's not anything criminal. It's civil.

And before it gets to something bad, that's the procedure you need to utilize. Don't involve the cops. Just go to a lawyer, go to the civil court, and file the petition. It has nothing to do with the police at this point.

BATTISTA: Michelle, any advice here for Deborah?

OBERMAN: I have two bits of advice. First I want to commend you for your attentiveness. When I said these crimes are preventable, they are preventable by people like you, who pay attention and that care.

And I would tell you, just as Pam did, to seek guardianship, just temporary guardianship, because it sounds to me, without knowing anymore, like they are in danger. I would also urge you or your son- in-law to call Postpartum Support International; it's a group, an international group actually, that works with women that are suffering from a whole variety of postpartum disorders. And it also has a lot of help for the extended family members who are involved in the lives of these women.

Because as we have seen so clearly in the Yates' case, this affects not just the mother, but the father, the mother-in-laws, the grandparents, the neighbors. It really affects a whole constellation of people that are involved in these baby's lives.

CALLER: Can we find this phone number on the Internet? How can we find it?

OBERMAN: I actually have it with me and after the next commercial break, I will dig it out for you.

BATTISTA: You guys, let me take a break here and we'll put Deborah on hold and we'll give her the information that she needs.

Deborah, please get help.

Catherine, we know that you have to run. Thank you very much for joining us; I appreciate your viewpoints on this. And we will take a break and be back in just a moment.


BATTISTA: We're back and we're talking with the audience here and doing some quick e-mails. This one is from Deanna in Houston, who says:

"There is just no excuse for this. I hope she rots in jail; I hope she never sets foot in society again."

Yvonne in Great Neck, New York says: "Andrea Yates is ill. She should be in a hospital. Talk of the death penalty is ludicrous."

We were just during the break here talking about what I think is sort of at the core of this and that is, and that is, a lack of understanding and tolerance about mental illnesses, and you know, if we could just sort of segue off of the Andrea Yates' case for just a moment.

Elaine, you had a comment.

ELAINE: I wanted to say Bobbie, I think that of all of the branches of medicine, psychiatry has made the least amount of progress. There is so much stigma against mental illness. It isn't something that people choose or that depression -- major depression is not something you can pull yourself out of by wishing for.

I myself -- I have been a social worker for 17 years, working in hospitals. I have a master's degree. At age 50, I was diagnosed with major depression. I was suicidal, hospitalized and received 23 electric shock treatments, from which I've never recovered. I've suffered long-term memory loss and short-term memory loss -- haven't worked in 18 months.

BATTISTA: And did you ever find out why? What brought this on, at age 50, in your life all of a sudden, or did you have a history of...

ELAINE: No, I never had any prior history. My grandmother had depression when she came to this country. It was never talked about, though.

BATTISTA: So it could have been a genetic thing, is what you're saying.

ELAINE: Also, the fact that I was menopausal at the time, they brought that in. BATTISTA: Oh, great. We can all look forward to that.

All right, we have to take another break here. And we'll do some more e-mails and talk further with our guests when we come back.


BATTISTA: Welcome back. We're talking about the woman in Texas who told police that she killed her five children. And joining us now is Rusty Hubbarth, an attorney and vice president of Justice for All, a crime victims' advocacy group in Austin, Texas.

Rusty, you think the whole idea of this postpartum depression, and using that as part of the Andrea's defense is pretty much like Twinkie defense.

RUSTY HUBBARTH, JUSTICE FOR ALL: Yes, I feel it's unacceptable, and a misguidance of any sympathy involved in this entire case.

BATTISTA: Why is it unacceptable?

HUBBARTH: Because most of the people in America have suffered from depression at one time or another. We don't slaughter five innocent children.

BATTISTA: Well, I'm not sure we've all suffered from clinical depression. I know I never have.

HUBBARTH: Well, I don't know if we have or have not. But regardless, we have not slaughtered our children, and that is the important issue here. They are the victims that are deserving of sympathy. The father is the victim that is deserving of the sympathy.

But this misguided sympathy for Ms. Yates, who cruelly and intentionally took her children and drowned them one by one while they were fighting, constitutes a barbaric act of multiple capital murder.

BATTISTA: I don't know that it -- I don't think most of the people that we're talking to -- most of the sympathy for her is coming from other women who have had severe postpartum depression. Average folks who have not gone through that, I'm not sure it's sympathy that they're feeling for her. But it is sort of trying to understand why she did what she did. You're sort of looking at it like she went into this with a rational mind and committed these acts.

HUBBARTH: I believe that her action shows that she was rational, by chasing the child up the stairs.

BATTISTA: Who in their rational mind would do that?

HUBBARTH: We're not talking about a standard of rationality to the generally populace. We're talking about a standard of rationality, the ability to factor the crime. And in that respect, she was rational. She wasn't just -- she wasn't killing the children because of some cognitive problem. She didn't think that her dog Sam was talking to them. BATTISTA: How do you know that?

HUBBARTH: I don't know that. And that's up to her defense attorney to bring out when she goes on trial for capital murder.

BATTISTA: Bob, in the audience.

BOB: I just feel that in this situation here, I mean, I can't see how a mother with five children can do something like this and not be in a zombie state. I just can't fathom a mother doing that. I mean, you've got to be totally out of your mind to do something like that. And she might have come back and gained her senses after this all went through. I think depression in this country is just something that really has to be looked at more deeply. I think it's a major, major problem, and I think you're going to see more of this happening.

It happened in my state just a month ago, where a mother killed her two children and then killed herself. And they found out afterwards that she had major depression. And boyfriend who had lived in New York called up and she wasn't answering the phone, and they went there and the three of them were dead. I mean, it's...

BATTISTA: So what's disturbing here, Michelle, is that we seem to have so many accounts of women, whether it's postpartum or not, but women who are in severe clinical depression killing their children and/or themselves.

OBERMAN: Yes, one of the things about this area that's unique is that these cases aren't about vengeance or random violence. These are cases involving desperation. And the women who kill themselves, we had one just two weeks ago here in Chicago -- or kill themselves and their or children, or indeed just their children -- are doing so because they're operating under a severe, severe mental distress.

And I'm not a physician, nor do I think is Rusty, but anybody looking at these cases can tell that this is not the product of a rational, purposeful actor, but rather somebody who is in crisis. The only question then becomes: What do we -- as a system, society, criminal justice system -- do with a women who has acted in crisis, in desperation, in profound depression or in psychosis, and has caused this level of harm?

HUBBARTH: Hold her to the same standard as anyone else.

HAYES: But it's not anybody else. That's the whole point. We deal with people that are mentally ill differently than we do everybody else, and until we accept that that is what the law says, it's just vengeance and raw feelings. And no one feels sorry, you just want the right...

HUBBARTH: It's not vengeance. It's justice.

HAYES: It's not justice.

HUBBARTH: It is justice.

HAYES: You just want to kill somebody or, you know, whatever, because they did something wrong.

HUBBARTH: No, we want her to be held to the standards of the laws of the state of Texas. That is not wrong, and in Texas, she will go through a competency hearing, she will go through a guilt or innocence phase of her trial. If she is found guilty she will go to a sentencing phase. Every mitigating factor...

HAYES: Suppose she's found not guilty.

HUBBARTH: If she's found not guilty, the she's found not guilty. However, if she is found guilty then any mitigating circumstances, including any claims of depression, will be brought forward before the jury. At that point in time, the jury will decide whether those mitigating circumstances justify her not being executed and sentenced to 40 years minimum on a life sentence.

BATTISTA: Rusty, do you feel, from what you know of the case so far, that they should go for the death penalty here?

HUBBARTH: It's my impression, I believe, that they are going for the death penalty. They are charging it as a capital murder in the state of Texas. And Texas -- I don't know whether the decision has been made by the Houston district attorney's office yet as to whether or not they will seek the death penalty. However, if they do, then she will have the full course of due process in the state of Texas. It's not vengeance, ma'am. It's justice.

HAYES: It's vengeance, too. You can just hear it in your voice. You don't even want to be open to the fact that something might be wrong, and if it's wrong, that means that we have to treat it differently. No one's saying she shouldn't have a trial.

HUBBARTH: We don't treat this differently. We have a standard...

HAYES: We want her to have a trial. But the burden might be different, the level of proof might be different, and that's not up to any of us unless we sit on that jury.

That's to the jury and that's to the defense and the prosecutors. They are the ones involved. But she should go through the full panoply of the Texas justice system and she -- should she be found guilty of capital murder, she will be facing one of two penalties.

At that point in time, the jury will have an opportunity to determine whether or not her depression, whatever degree it was, was a significant mitigating factor to keep her from being executed.

BATTISTA: I have to take a quick break here.

David, I will come to you from the audience when come back.

Darrell from Oregon says: "If a man drowned his five children, we would not accept any excuses. The insanity defense could be used in any cold-blooded murder. After all, what sane person commits murder?"

We will be back in just a moment.


BATTISTA: I want to come back to the issue that involves Andrea Yates' husband. As many of you may have seen last Thursday, when we came out in front of his house and spoke with reporters, he was strikingly and candidly open about what had happened. And incredibly controlled. And put together. It was kind of eerie to watch in some ways. He may have been in some state of shock about the whole thing. But typical of the e-mails we are getting on this are -- D. in Toronto for example says:

"There is something seriously wrong with Russell Yates and his reaction to his children's death."

If did you not hear it, Russell has continued to support his wife and says he loves her very much. Roxanne in Indiana says:

"All I know is, I have four children, and if I did something like this, my husband would kill me. I can't see how her husband can be so understanding."

To the audience and David, quickly, on this.

DAVID: I find it interesting we are judging the husband on his reaction when, in many ways, it's sort of morbid of us to be even looking at him in this time of grief.


To come to someone when their entire family has been wiped out like this, and the people are going to have different reactions because people -- some people react by withdrawing, becoming inner -- and other people grieve more. And I think it's kind of morbid of to us be focusing on him and judging him by our standards of what we at this moment think we would do in this situation.

BATTISTA: I understand.

Rusty, were you surprised to see Russell Yates' support and love for his wife?

HUBBARTH: I have no way to understand what Mr. Yates' feelings are. And I hope I never do, because the only way to understand that would be in that position.

As David just stated, the man has had his entire family -- ripped away from him and if he extends his sympathy and support for the one remaining member of his nuclear family, regardless of the circumstances, I'm not going to judge him on his actions and reactions at this point in time. The man is clearly grieving. He may be controlled. He may need to be controlled to keep from losing it completely. My sympathy goes out to Mr. Russell Yates.

BATTISTA: Michelle, let me ask you if you have discovered anything in your research about spousal reaction to mothers killing their children.

OBERMAN: There is a range of reactions, some of which are driven by sheer grief -- and just as the other speakers have said, you can't really predict what a person will do at a time of just urgent crisis like this.

But I should say though that there is a sense for anybody who has to in judgment on this, whether it's a spouse, a family member, or a member of a jury, a sense of humility once the facts of the cases come out, when you come to understand the various pressures and factors that built into the crime, that led up to the crime, so that one comes away often from these cases with a sense of gratitude for the forces in your life that helped you hold it together when you had your young children, that kept you as a child safe that supported your parents as they raised you at times of great difficulty perhaps.

So, when you find a husband who has a sense of blame enough to go around, and a sense of forgiveness for his wife, you need to recognize that as a very humane response and honor, the tragedy that he's expressing.

BATTISTA: Let me take a phone call from Anne in Tennessee -- Anne.

CALLER: Yes, I think that deep down Andrea knew that killing her children was wrong, because she sneaked and did it when she was alone.

BATTISTA: So -- OK, I don't know Pam, she's basing it just on the fact that she did it when she knew her husband already left for work, and her mother-in-law had not shown up yet, so she sort of planned it, let's say, or had a moment of opportunity.

HAYES: I don't know what this woman was thinking. It's clear to me that something was severely wrong with her. I have had these cases when I was a prosecutor, and to try to get in their mind, you generally can't do this because in the few instances when it does happen, something is wrong.

I just have never ran up on a case of this magnitude, that there wasn't a mental illness involved that somebody just did this and thought they could get over by saying it was a medical excuse.

Look at the woman in South Carolina, Susan Smith: Clearly she was not sick. She wasn't ill. She did it because her boyfriend left her. There is knowing to talk about there. She is guilty of first-degree murder and she didn't get the death penalty, but she will be in jail for the rest of her life.

I have questions about this case. I just do and I'm not ready to say forget about it, she did it, that's it. That's not the way the law tells us to react.

HUBBARTH: No. She has a presumption of innocence until she's proven guilty.


BATTISTA: I have to take another break; we'll be back in a moment.


BATTISTA: More e-mails coming in. Carmen in an Air Force base in Florida says: "The bottom line is that five little angels lost their lives in an unforgivable act by the one person who should have given her life defending and protecting the children she brought into this world. She deserves the worst.

Thomas in Birmingham, Alabama says: "I have done forensic work on individuals who have committed violent acts, including homicide. I can assure you there are a few people out there who are so out of touch with reality that they don't understand what they are doing. A person can develop a severe psychosis as a result of depression, postpartum or otherwise. People this sick should not be held guilty for their acts."

Rita, comment?

RITA: I am from the state of Texas and I certainly hope she does not get the death penalty. I can understand how a mother can be in distress and perhaps she felt that by killing all five of her children she was actually protecting them; there is a maternal instinct that sometimes kicks in, where you feel that no one can see after your child like you can. I can't agree with what she did, but I can have some type of understanding for what she did.

BATTISTA: Rusty, what is the feeling throughout most of Texas since any potential jury members will come from folks there?

HUBBARTH: Well, I don't feel Texans are much different than anybody else in America. We all find this to be a horrible tragedy, and yes, it's a tragedy. However, I personally feel that this was an intentional crime.

BATTISTA: Elaine from the audience; comment?

ELAINE: Bobbie, I would like to know how much experience this Rusty has had in the field of mental health? Has he ever seen anybody in a psychotic state? Anybody who looks at Miss Yates as she is coming out of her home, she looks as though she doesn't know where she is. My heart goes out to her. I would like to know what experience he has had with this.

HUBBARTH: Dealing with depressed people, I think everyone has dealt with depressed people. In dealing with people's appearances and basing their sole judgment on their appearance, I would...


BATTISTA: Whoa! We just lost our satellite from -- where was that? Austin, I guess? -- Sorry Rusty. We have to go anyway; we are out of time. We thank Pamela Hayes for joining us and Michelle Oberman as well.

Thank you both very much.

And if -- by the way, if you want to get in touch with the group, Postpartum Support International, we have contact information on our Web site at

See you again tomorrow for more TALKBACK LIVE.