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A father's negligence

IT IS NOW confirmed. Andrea Yates is a murderer and will spend the rest of her life in prison for systematically drowning her five children last year. The jury did not take the bait presented in her defense and declared that mental illness was no excuse for breaking the bonds of motherhood through murder.

But now that the woman who actually did the killing is behind bars for good, the prosecution now must look beyond Andrea and punish the person who was a definite accessory to these heinous crimes: Rusty Yates, Andrea's husband and father to the five murdered children. Rusty Yates, although he did not aid in the actual physical murder of his children, is just as guilty as his wife. The state of Texas should charge him with criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of his children to see that justice is served.

Rusty Yates has been described by prosecutors as a religious fanatic and a strict husband who pushed his wife to raise their five children, four boys and one girl, the way he wanted. Mr. Yates bought into the cult that has mesmerized America during this trial: the cult of motherhood.

Rusty Yates, a man perfectly in control of his mental state, was grossly negligent when he left his five children, one of them an infant, with a woman who had tried twice to commit suicide. He put his children in harm's way when he insisted that Andrea home-school the children, requiring her to be at home with them all day, when he knew that she had suffered hallucinations after bouts with postpartum psychosis. This disorder often causes mothers to lose their sense of reality, resulting in hallucinations and other delusions. Another typical symptom of postpartum psychosis exhibited by Yates is an obsession with protecting one's children.

During Andrea's trial, the prosecution sought to paint a picture of a woman who broke the strongest bond she could attain in life. They showed that she had become the ultimate failure, a mother who could not raise her children, one who was driven insane by these five innocent children, one who turned to murder and exchanged her role of protector and nurturer for that of a menacing killer.

Related Links

  • CNN's coverage of the Yates trial
  • During the trial, America looked to Rusty, a seemingly mild-mannered southern man, trying to stick by his ill wife in her darkest hour. America asked questions like, "How could she do this to him?" and "How can he stand by her after she killed his children?" No one, though, regarded Rusty with suspicion. He, like his five children, was a victim. Andrea had hurt him when she killed his children.

    In assuming Rusty Yates' innocence in this crime, however, America missed the point. It forgot that two people bring children into the world and, when a child dies, both people have a hand in the negligence that sometimes is the cause. This case is no exception. For his negligence, Rusty Yates is at fault for the murder of his five children just as his now-convicted wife is.

    It can't be disputed that Andrea Yates was severely mentally ill at the time of the murders. The Texas jury decided that she, in fact, knew right from wrong when she drowned her children. It can be debated forever if she did know that what she was doing was wrong, but one thing is certain: Rusty Yates was sane. There never was a question of the sanity of the children's father at any point during the trial.

    Andrea Yates may have been a wonderful woman that Rusty loved very much, but her mental illness made her unfit to care for five small children. Mr. Yates is guilty of knowingly putting his children in a dangerous situation and should be punished for it.

    America sees the job of motherhood as sacrosanct. No one feels they have the right to interfere with the way a woman chooses to care for and raise her children. No one will step in, even as they watch a woman fall deeper and deeper into a mental illness that makes her a hazard to her own children. The cult of motherhood dictates that a woman should rejoice in the raising of her children and want nothing more than to put her all into it, even if it comes at the cost of her own sanity.

    The cult of motherhood reigned supreme in the Yates household, preventing the children's own father from stepping in to protect them from their own mother. Rusty Yates, however, should have stepped in, but, instead, was negligent in his responsibility to his children. By leaving them with an unfit mother, one who consistently showed signs of danger, Mr. Yates had a hand in the murder of his five children. For that, he should be punished.

    (Erin Perucci's column appears Tuesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at eperucci@cavalierdaily.com.)

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