Russell Yates was the picture of compassion after his wife Andrea was sentenced to life in prison for drowning their five children. He told the Associated Press he doesn’t know whether he will remain married to Andrea. He said he misses the companionship of a wife and may like to have more children.
Not so fast, Mr. Yates! Prosecutors are said to be seriously considering filing charges against him “if the evidence warrants.” The evidence against him should be overwhelming!
Consider, if you will, another high-profile murder trial, the trial of Marjorie Knoller, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of lacrosse coach Diane Whipple. Russell Yates did not lift a finger to harm his children. Likewise, Knoller did not lift a finger to harm Whipple, who was killed in the hallway leading to her San Francisco apartment. The instrument of her death was Bane, one of Knoller’s two 140-pound Presa Canario dogs, that broke free from her and mauled Whipple.
In addition to the murder charge, Knoller and her husband Robert Noel, who was not home at the time, are charged with involuntary manslaughter and keeping a mischievous dog that killed a person. The question the jury will decide is whether they should have realized that keeping these guard dogs – which Knoller previously admitted she couldn’t control – was an unacceptable risk. The couple testified that they couldn’t possibly imagine that the two animals – which neighbors allege had terrorized them – could hurt anyone.
Back to Russell Yates, who blamed his HMO and his wife’s doctors, and said that this tragedy happened because no one recognized the severity of his wife’s illness. “She never told me that she had any thoughts of harming the children before,” said Yates. “If she had said anything about that, we may have decided not to have any more children.”
What did Andrea Yates say when she called her husband immediately after drowning the kids in the family bathtub? She told him that she had hurt all five kids and that she finally did it.” No one may know what really went on between this couple, but the fact that she told him “I finally did it” would indicate that there had been previous conversations to that effect.
Also, to say that no one recognized the severity of his wife’s illness is to deny the testimony of psychiatrist Dr. Eileen Starbranch, who in 1999 diagnosed her mental condition as “depression with psychotic features,” with the possibility of long-term schizophrenia. Starbranch testified that Andrea was one of the five sickest people she had encountered in her 24-year career. In fact, she finally used an “emergency injection” formulated from a cocktail of drugs used only in dire cases to bring her around. Dr. Starbranch warned the couple against having more children and warned Russell if her illness returned it could be even more severe. Nevertheless she was told, “They planned to have as many children as nature would allow.”
Friends and relatives have indicated that Russell Yates was a critical, unemotional, inattentive, insensitive husband. After the birth of his fourth child, his mother-in-law, Jutta Kennedy, said he told her he had never changed a diaper. Russell Yates may not be a rocket scientist, but he does design computer systems for NASA. He may not have met his wife’s emotional needs, but clearly he got the message from Dr. Starbranch. He just refused to let it upset his grand plan to father a large family.
His statement also is contradictory to the testimony of Dr. Ellen Allbritton, who admitted Mrs. Yates to the Devereux Texas Treatment Network just three months before she killed the children. Dr. Allbritton wrote in her notes, “needs in-patient stabilization for safety of self and others.” Although Yates denied having any suicidal or homicidal thoughts, Dr. Allbritton said, “I wouldn’t have trusted her to walk across the street.” Nevertheless, she said Russell Yates was hesitant to hospitalize her, and did so only after she filed an emergency detention order.”
For Russell Yates to say that he didn’t know that his wife was seriously ill and a danger to herself and the kids was to deny the obvious. It’s similar to the excuses offered by the defendants in the murder of Diane Whipple.
Russell Yates is not a defendant – yet. However, he ought to be held to the same degree of accountability in managing the illness of his wife that resulted in the death of his kids, as Knoller and Noel were in managing the dogs that resulted in the death of the young lacrosse coach.