(HOUSTON, Texas) - A psychiatrist testified Friday that Andrea Yates believed she was saving her five children from an eternity in hell when she drowned them in her bathtub last June.
"Mrs. Yates did not know the difference between right and wrong," said Dr. Phillip Resnick, who formed his opinion after examining Yates twice while she was in jail.
Resnick said Yates was suffering from a combination of schizophrenia and other mood disorders, such as depression.
Yates has confessed to police that she drowned her five children in the bathtub last June. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors contend she knew that what she was doing was wrong and that the killings were premeditated.
But Resnick testified that although there was evidence she knew that killing her children was illegal, she felt that what she had done was in their best interest.
Resnick said Yates faced "a cruel dilemma which turned upside down her sense of right and wrong." She believed that, by killing her children, she not only sent them to heaven, but saved them from an eternity in the fires of hell, he said.
Resnick described the killings as altruistic: Yates, who believed she was possessed by Satan, set herself up to be executed for her crime, thereby ridding the earth of Satan.
Resnick is a professor of psychiatry at Case Western University, who specializes in treating parents who kill their children. He has testified in a number of high-profile cases, including consultations for the prosecution in the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh trials. He declined to testify for the defense in the trial of Susan Smith, who drowned her children, because he did not think she was legally insane.
Yates is on trial for two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Noah, 7, John, 5, and Mary, 6 months. One of the counts covers the two eldest children. She is not on trial for the drownings of Luke, 3, and Paul, 2.
Jurors on Friday watched a brief videotape shot during one of Resnick's sessions with Yates. Dressed in an orange jail uniform, her hair oily, deep circles under her eyes, she appears gaunt, pale, stooped, her voice a monotone.
She tells Resnick she thought the killings were in her children's best interests because it was better to send them to heaven than to see them perish in hell.
Earlier Friday, another psychiatrist for the defense who treated Andrea Yates five days after she drowned her five children said he believes she was in "deep psychosis" at the time of the killings.
Yates was hallucinating and in a psychotic state during the June 25 examination, Dr. Steve Rosenblatt told jurors in Yates' murder trial.
The psychiatrist said it would have taken Yates weeks to become as sick as she appeared on the day of the exam, and that she was in all likelihood in the same state at the time of the killings.
"She was out of contact with reality, did not know right from wrong, and in my opinion, clearly was within what's considered the legal definition of insanity," Rosenblatt told reporters during a break outside the courtroom.
Defense psychiatrists have testified that Andrea Yates had stopped taking anti-psychotic medication in the weeks before the killings. Why she did so is not clear.
Russell Yates told jurors Thursday that he never grasped the extent of his wife's illness. He said he was told her postpartum depression and other symptoms were treatable and that at no time did her behavior suggest she was a danger to the children.
Asked by the defense Thursday about Andrea Yates' suicide attempt in 1999, the year their fourth child was born, Russell Yates said his wife described her state of mind at the time as being in a "dark place," but never discussed her mental illness, or even admitted she was sick.