N E W Y O R K, March 27, 2002 -- A traveling evangelist, whose fire-and-brimstone teachings were embraced by Andrea and Russell Yates, says he shouldn't be blamed for Andrea Yates' decision to drown her five children.
Michael Woroniecki, the Yates' spiritual mentor, told ABCNEWS' Good Morning America that he told the Yateses that they were going to hell during the couple's visit in 1998.
"Of course, because everybody is going to hell," said Woroniecki, adding that he doesn't think his preaching against Satan and hell sent Andrea over the edge.
"I shared Jesus with them," Woroniecki said, adding that he warned Russell Yates over and over again that Andrea and the children were in great need of his love.
"I hold him responsible [for the drownings] but I also hold Andrea responsible. God knows what we shared with those people," he said.
Andrea Yates, 37, was convicted this month of two capital murder charges filed in the killings of her children last June and was sentenced to life in prison. Her attorneys presented an insanity defense, contending it was severe psychosis from postpartum depression that drove her to drown 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John, 3-year-old Paul, 2-year-old Luke and 6-month-old Mary.
Saving Their Souls
The day after Andrea Yates drowned her five children, she told doctors that she did it to save them from going to hell. Her defense attorney and psychiatrist said Yates got the idea from the Woroniecki.
Woroniecki called the defense's claims "ridiculous."
Yates' attorney, George Parnham, put into evidence a copy of Woroniecki's newsletter The Perilous Times, that was sent to the Yates family.
It contains a poem which laments the disobedient kids of the "Modern Mother Worldly" and ends with the question, "What becomes of the children of such a Jezebel?" Jezebel is a biblical figure most commonly associated with spiritual deception.
Even the prosecution used the preacher in its case against Yates. Park Dietz, the forensic psychiatrist for the prosecution in the Yates case, said the pressure to follow Woroniecki's lifestyle, by living on a bus with five children, was a factor in Andrea's two previous suicide attempts.
"She couldn't say to people, 'I can't stand this'," Dietz said during the trial that ended in a life sentence for Yates.
A Different Fate?
A Houston psychiatrist on Andrea's defense team said Andrea Yates' fate might have been different if she never met Woroniecki.
"It's heartbreaking," Lucy Puryear said Tuesday on Good Morning America. "She has schizophrenia. She still would have been ill, but I don't believe she ever, ever would have drowned her children," she said.
A newly uncovered videotape shows the controversial preacher in action. On the tape, Woroniecki is publicly preaching that "the whole world is going to hell." On one tape, the preacher is wearing a Satan mask, which he claims helps with the language barriers.
"Those films that were shown were in Europe where we were trying to communicate French, Italian, German — I used the mask as prop," he said.
A former follower of Woroniecki says his heart sank when he heard the Yateses were connected to the preacher.
David De La Isla, who followed Woroniecki's teachings for 12 years, says Woroniecki was a powerful influence on the vulnerable mind of Andrea Yates. "In her thinking she was doomed to hell, her kids were going to go to hell, and that the only way she could save them was by killing them," he said Tuesday on Good Morning America.
De La Isla, like Russell Yates, met Woroniecki as a college student. He became very depressed and even tried to commit suicide after a 1995 face-to-face encounter with the preacher which resulted in his own damnation. The preacher told him he was going to hell, despite his believing in Jesus and other intensive efforts at salvation.
Woroniecki dismissed De La Isla as someone he barely knows. "I met that guy 15 years ago at a McDonald's restaurant," Woroniecki said. "Now I'm responsible for his actions?"
Woroniecki's followers correspond with the preacher primarily through mail. De La Isla says he has a huge stack of handwritten letters from the preacher that say he was not living a righteous life.
‘Not Some Weirdo Whackos’
The preacher defended the beliefs and lifestyle he, his wife and six children have adopted. "My family is not some weirdo whackos from a ridiculous venue," he said.
Woroniecki said his relationship with Andrea Yates was "one of nothing but love and compassion." The preacher said he is still waiting to hear from Russell Yates about his own role in Andrea's fate.
"I never heard from him — I heard him blame the hospitals, clinics, postpartum depression and drugs. Can you ever say, 'I am looking into the mirror — I should have shepherded my wife. I should have taken care of her,'" he said.