Andrea Yates, the Houston mom who in 2001 drowned her five young children one-by-one in the bathtub, might soon be allowed to leave the state psychiatric hospital where she is being treated for mental illness to attend church.
"She's been approved by a certain church to attend Sunday services, and I anticipate that that recommendation will be forthcoming from her doctors," Yates' attorney George Parnham told ABCNews.com. He would not name the church.
Parnham said he expects doctors at Kerrville State Hospital to file a letter to the state district court within 10 days recommending that Yates be granted a two-hour pass to attend church on Sundays, the first step toward a permanent release.
"I hope that little by little she will adapt to the outside world by taking baby steps," he said.
Yates was convicted of capital murder in 2002, but acquitted in 2006 after jurors found her innocent by reason of insanity. The stay-at-home mom had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts before drowning Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke 2, and Mary, 6 months, after her husband, Rusty, left for work.
Yates confessed to the killings after calling police to her home. A police video showed a wet sock in the hallway and the body of one of Yates' children faced down in the bathtub. The other four bodies were laid on a bed and covered with a sheet.
In tapes released to ABC News' "Primetime" in 2006, Yates said she drowned her children because she didn't want them to go to hell. Yates' defense team argued she was influenced by Michael Woroniecki, a preacher from Oregon.
"The church she requested to attend is 180 degrees different from the ramblings of that hell, fire and brimstone preacher," said Parnham. "She would just like to get back into a stable church whereby God and Christianity become a role in her life. There's nothing nefarious about that."
Experts testified that postpartum psychosis prevented Yates from knowing right from wrong. With treatment, the delusions and hallucinations cleared and Yates realized what she had done.
"There were six victims that day, and Andrea was one of them," said Parnham, describing Yates' devastation. "But she understands that mental illness was the prime mover that caused various things to take place. She understands, she grieves, she mourns and she memorializes [her children]."
Parnham said Yates makes cards and other crafts and sells them in the hospital gift shop. She sends the proceeds to the Yates Memorial Children's Fund, a charity founded by Parnham to fund women's mental health education.
While Yates' doctors may deem her ready to reenter society, the public may feel differently.
"We tend to keep people with pyschosis hospitalized a lot longer than we need to, partly because society is spooked by these individuals and judges tend to reflect those views," said Dr. Phil Resnick, director of forensic psychiatry at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Resnick testified in both of Yates' trials in her defense. "States tend to be quite conservative in releasing people."
Resnick said he recently examined two women who murdered their children based on religious delusions.
"One said she didn't want to go back to church because she didn't want to be put back in that situation. The other woman felt religion was a very important way for her to cope," he said.
Andrea Yates May Get to Leave Hospital
Dr. Stephen Montgomery, a forensic psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, said church could be a good starting point for Yates' return to life outside the hospital.
"It's always healthy for patients to be reintroduced into society, and church is a good support network and source of strength for many people," he said. "The only concern would be making sure she's no longer having any type of delusion that might affect her understanding of spiritual scripture."
After seven years of treatment, Parnham said Yates is "just as normal as you or I." He hopes conditional release for weekly church services will be the first step toward her one day living on her own and holding down a job.
"It's not like she's going be turned loose without any care or any way to support herself," he said, describing frequent outpatient checkups. "She will basically be under the spotlight if she's ever released."
- Andrea Yates