Religious Zeal Infused Yates’ Lives, Testimony Shows
The cloistered household in which Andrea Pia Yates drowned her five children was laced with offbeat, even dangerous, religious zeal, according to testimony in Yates’ capital murder trial Thursday.
It was a home in which the husband and wife stuck to traditional roles. It was a home in which medicine was frowned upon, school systems were unacceptable and institutional religion was a tool of evil. Doomsday leaflets mailed to the house gave hysterical warnings against demonic influences that threaten young children.
“I cannot stress how serious the whole thing is: By the time a child is 14 or 15 years old, it’s too late,” the Perilous Times newsletter said. Yates’ husband, Russell “Rusty” Yates, read aloud from the tract during Thursday’s testimony. “If you feed them with the world’s ways, you reap what you sow.”
“Do you have any idea how the information you just read would play to the mind of a psychotic individual?” defense lawyer George Parnham asked Rusty Yates.
When she confessed to killing her children on a summer morning, Andrea Yates told detectives, “They weren’t developing properly.” Later that week, she told her brother that Satan was living inside her. Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
For years, Andrea Yates suffered suicide attempts, catatonic states and psychosis. In a quavering voice, her best friend told the jury she watched helplessly while the 37-year-old mother wasted away, stopped talking to her children and paced aimless circles with a baby on her bony hip. Yates stopped bathing and grew too emaciated to breast-feed, said Deborah Holmes. The two women became friends before Yates’ marriage, when they worked together as nurses in a Houston hospital.
For two years before the Yates children were killed, Holmes had kept a diary chronicling Andrea Yates’ condition “in case something bad happens.”
“I called her husband crying and sobbing, saying she needs help now,” said Holmes. “He’d say, ‘I’ll look into it.’ I’d say, ‘She’s not going to make it through the weekend.’ ”
Holmes said Rusty Yates considered child care a woman’s responsibility and refused to help his wife tend the children. “I’m not saying he didn’t play with them or enjoy them, but as far as care for them, he didn’t,” Holmes said. “If the kids’ faces or hands were dirty, he’d say, ‘Wait till your mother comes.’ ”
Therapist Earline Wilcott counseled Andrea Yates for months in a Christian center. The only time she met Rusty Yates, he quoted from the Bible: Wives must submit to their husbands. “Sense of [Andrea Yates] being overwhelmed and trapped with no alternative,” Wilcott jotted in her notes.
“I hoped she could have more support from him in terms of helping with home school and having more time off,” the therapist testified Thursday.
The religious tracts apparently wielded a heavy influence over the family’s lifestyle. They were written by Michael Woroniecki, a preacher who roams college campuses with a message: “You are going to hell.”
During his undergraduate years, Rusty Yates met Woroniecki on the grounds of Auburn University and the two struck up a friendship. They stayed in touch, and the preacher’s wife exchanged letters with Andrea Yates.
The leaflets said women have a biblical duty to endure natural childbirth as a “humbling” rite of passage. Andrea Yates gave birth to all five of her children without the aid of medication.
The pamphlets also insisted on the importance of home schooling. While his wife sat catatonic in a mental hospital, Rusty Yates was out house-hunting. He had a stipulation: There had to be space for a home school, which was Andrea Yates’ job. “The social interaction the world tells you is so important is exactly what you need to protect your children from,” the leaflet reads.
The decision to abandon their first suburban house in favor of a nomadic life in trailer parks came after the birth of the Yates’ two eldest children. The family lived for a time in a converted Greyhound bus Rusty Yates bought from the Woronieckis for $37,000. A pregnant Andrea Yates--who had recently miscarried--slept on a couch because she was afraid to climb over the steering wheel into the couple’s bed, Holmes said.
The family adored its newfound simplicity, Rusty Yates said. “We had a lot of stuff, a surprising amount of stuff,” he told the jury. “It became burdensome.”
But it was more than that, Holmes and Wilcott testified: The couple insisted upon moving into the trailer, they said, because they feared the children would become materialistic. So they held a garage sale, and Andrea Yates lost her wedding gifts, furniture--just about everything except her sewing machine and cookware.
“You saw her give up everything she’d worked so hard to gather when she was out on her own?” prosecutor Kaylynn Williford asked Holmes.
“Yes,” Holmes replied. Meanwhile, Rusty Yates rented a storage space for his tools, she said.
“Are you very fond of Rusty Yates?” Parnham asked Holmes at the end of her testimony.
“That’s irrelevant,” Holmes replied. “It’s her husband.”
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