A brutal crime was committed in 2001. Five Texas children were killed. Their mother, Andrea Yates, was charged with their murders. A second brutal crime was committed just this summer, in Houston: Yates was found "not guilty" of the crime "by reason of insanity."
There is, of course, no question that Yates is a deeply disturbed (yes, sick) woman. Her children -- Noah, 7; John, 5; Luke, 3; Paul, 2; and Mary, 6 months -- are dead, believed to have been drowned one at a time.
She was originally convicted on charges related to their deaths, only to have the sentence overturned because of erroneous testimony. A retrial resulted in this new "not guilty" injustice.
During her trials, prosecutors said that Noah, whose body was found with internal and external bruising, scratches and abrasions -- lived the longest, having put up the biggest fight; his mother, according to testimony, had to chase him down and drag him to the bathtub where his siblings had just been drowned.
Prosecutors argued that, though ill, she knew right from wrong and what she was doing when she killed her kids one at a time. Her lawyers argued she knew what she was doing, but thought it was right -- she was battling Satan, according to Yates, and her children would go to heaven if she killed them. It was all for the good, in her post-partum-depression mess of a head.
We certainly should feel empathy for the mentally ill. But what about the children who suffered at her hands -- the ones now dead?
There's something off about "justice" when a perpetrator of such an unspeakable evil can be declared, essentially, blameless. We should be worried what it means for us if we let the memory of those dead children get lost in the ebb and tide of other headlines in a fast-moving world.
Instead, absent in our national consciousness -- if media chatter is any indication -- are the Yates children. When we read or hear of a "Yates," it's anyone but the murdered innocents. When the "not guilty" came in, Yates's ex-husband (he since remarried), Rusty, was seen smiling. We're apparently supposed to care about how he's feeling and she's feeling (if Matt Lauer's questions are any indication).
The dead children's father has probably been Andrea's biggest public booster, though he's certainly not alone in working to soften her image. Among those are feminists. Judith Warner, now a New York Times columnist, in her 2005 book "Perfect Madness," called Yates "a supermom unhinged." Groups have rushed to make her a poster girl. The National Organization of Women, no friend to children, rushed to establish the Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition.
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