Fifteen years after drowning her five children in the bathtub of her suburban Houston home, Andrea Yates lives a reclusive life in a Texas mental health facility and frequently watches videos of her children laughing and playing, sources close to Yates tell PEOPLE.
Yates, now 51, was convicted of the June 20, 2001 killings in a case that drew widespread media attention, both for the outrage and sadness over the children’s deaths and for Yates’s defense of severe postpartum psychosis. Years later, her conviction was overturned, and in 2006, Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has since lived in mental hospitals.
Yates declined to speak with PEOPLE, but Yates’s defense attorney, George Parnham, says she will likely spend the rest of her life at the Kerrville State Hospital, a low-security facility about 70 miles outside of San Antonio in the Texas Hill Country.
Wendell Odom, Parnham’s partner, tells PEOPLE, “I don’t think people understand how shy and reclusive and how afraid Andrea is, especially since all this publicity descended on her.” He adds, “She is truly afraid.”
Yates’s children ranged from six months to seven years old. After systematically drowning them, Yates called 911 and reported their deaths.
Last year, Yates’s husband, Rusty Yates, was asked by Oprah Winfrey if he forgives his ex-wife.
“Yes,” he replied, adding: “Forgiveness kind of implies that I have ever really blamed her. In some sense I’ve never really blamed her because I’ve always blamed her illness.”
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Proceeds from Artwork Benefit Women’s Mental Health Organization
Yates is the only patient in the 202-bed facility who is not allowed to go outside the grounds. In 2012, she requested a two-hour pass to go to a local church, but her attorneys withdrew the request before it was ruled upon. They do not foresee future requests, Parnham says.
Yates receives few outside visitors to the facility, which has private patient rooms. In addition to watching videos of her children, she walks around the gardens in the grounds of the facility and creates aprons, cards and other artwork in the craft room.
She anonymously sells the aprons and cards she creates, turning proceeds over to support the Yates Children Memorial Fund, founded by Parnham and his wife Mary, and dedicated to women’s mental health, particularly postpartum mental health.
Says Parnham, “It turns a tragedy into a positive force. It means a lot to prevent other tragedies in many ways. Now we [routinely] talk with attorneys about mental health. [Local prosecutors] always ask me about Andrea in a very compassionate way. That’s a far cry from the position the state took years ago, when they sought he death penalty.”
Odom and Parnham, admit to PEOPLE that they were ignorant about postpartum depression and psychosis when they met Yates and that her case, despite the tragedy, has helped change perspectives on the issue.