Andrea Yates Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (Video)

A jury found that Andrea Yates could not be held responsible for murdering her children because she is too damned religious.

A jury found Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity in the drowning deaths of her young children in the bathtub of their suburban home. Yates will be committed to a state mental hospital, with periodic hearings before a judge to determine whether she should be released. If convicted, she would have faced life in prison.

Yates’ attorneys never disputed that she drowned 6-month-old Mary, 2-year-old Luke, 3-year-old Paul, 5-year-old John and 7-year-old Noah in their Houston-area home in June 2001. But they said she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and, in a delusional state, thought Satan was inside her and was trying to save them from hell.

While I’m pretty sure that most people who drown their children are indeed insane, one wonders whether merely believing one is possessed by Satan is prima facie proof that one is insane? “She believes WHAT?” She must be crazy.

How much belief in the supernatural can one have and still be considered sane? Virgin births? No problem. Possessed by Satan? Insane! Is everyone whose religious beliefs go outside the norms “insane”?

How about Scientologists?




FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Religion, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    Try this out (from USAToday via News of the Weird):

    The Texas insanity-defense law requires that a delusional person acting under “orders” from God be judged not guilty by reason of insanity, but that a delusional person acting under “orders” from Satan be considered sane, according to prominent forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz (according to a June USA Today story). Thus, Dietz believed that Andrea Yates (at press time being retried in Houston) knew that drowning her kids upon command of someone “without moral authority” (such as Satan) was wrong and thus that she did not qualify for insanity-law protection. Dietz later concluded the opposite in another Texas child-killing case because God had supposedly assured that mother that her kids would be better off dead. [USA Today, 6-20-06]

    Seems like that can’t possibly be correct (and it didn’t turn out like that, obviously), but interesting to ponder.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Bizarre, either way.

    Although she claimed she was trying to protect her kids FROM Satan, so she would be insane by this definition as well.

  3. I don’t find it all that difficult to see someone who drowns her kids one-two-three-four-five in order to save them from otherwise inevitable damnation because she is sure she is possessed by Satan as insane.

  4. James Joyner says:


    But that’s because you don’t share her belief system!

    I think people who strap bombs to themselves to blow up kids in a public place in order to get 72 virgins are crazy, too. But that doesn’t mean they’re criminally insane.

  5. I think the insanity determination is not so much because she believed that satan was inside her – a valid religious belief, though most would not share it – or because she believed her children would be better off in heaven than with her (few could dispute that in light of the events), but because she believed the solution to the problem was to kill them.

    The solution to the problem of “I am not fit to care for my children” (regardless of any involvement by satan) is to FIND SOMEONE ELSE to care for them. Such as their FATHER. Instead, she said nothing to the father, and deliberately waited until he wasn’t around to go and kill the children. This is an insane decision.

  6. legion says:

    They’re not criminals until _after_ they blow themselves up. But they’re a lot harder to prosecute then…
    (/snark off)

  7. Kent G. Budge says:

    And the trials are very dull.

  8. randall says:

    I knew it was coming when she got a new trial. Fathers who do the same thing are said to be evil and given the death penalty while woman are ruled insane and given medical treatment. Talk about a double standard! Keep your eyes open, there is a new defence in town and some woman are going to use it for all it’s worth. (Sorry men your excluded).

  9. Uh, Randall, I think a man who tried a post-partum psychosis defense would have to be crazy.

    He’s have trouble getting his gynecologist to testify, too.