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Andrea Yates' Ex-Husband On Her Trial: 'It Was The Single Cruelest Thing I've Ever Personally Witnessed'

04/23/2015 01:14 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2015

On the morning on June 20, 2001, mother of five Andrea Yates woke up, fed the kids breakfast and said goodbye to her husband, Rusty, as he left for work. What she did next is still beyond comprehension: One by one, Andrea drowned each of her children in the family's bathtub.

After killing 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John, 3-year-old Paul, 2-year-old Luke and 6-month-old Mary, Andrea called 911 and then Rusty. When police arrived to the Yates' home, the suburban housewife calmly confessed that she had just killed the children. The story made headlines across the country, leaving everyone asking an impossible question: Why?

At her trial, Andrea entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, saying that she suffered from a severe case of postpartum psychosis. Though prosecutors didn't deny that Andrea is mentally ill, they argued that she did know the difference between right and wrong, and should receive the same punishment as any other murderer. The jury agreed, finding Andrea guilty of capital murder in 2002. Instead of the death penalty, she was sentenced to life in prison.

Since then, that murder conviction has been overturned due to mistaken testimony from a psychiatrist, and Andrea was re-tried in 2006. This time, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Though Rusty divorced Andrea two years after the original trial and has since remarried, he says he still cares about his ex-wife and opened up to Oprah about Andrea's prosecution on "Oprah: Where Are They Now?"

"Some people are going to hear this and think it's crazy, but... trying her, it was the single cruelest thing I've ever personally witnessed," Rusty says.

Andrea's mental illness, he continues, was the sole factor that drove her to kill.

"Her actions were completely a result of her illness," Rusty says. "This [was a] mentally ill woman -- who otherwise loves her children, was a great mother, was a great person -- and they're going to sit her in trial? Try to kill her?"

That first trial in which the prosecution sought the death penalty was especially emotional for Rusty as he watched what the process did to the troubled woman he had once trusted and loved.

"They spent a week showing pictures of our children's dead bodies in front of a jury, in front of her," Rusty says. "I mean, from my perspective, that's the cruelest thing... She's somebody that needs love, compassion, support."

Even thinking back on the trial still overwhelms Rusty today, 14 years later.

"They just take her and put her on public display, with the bodies of my children," he says tearfully. "It's so wrong."

Rusty Yates' full interview airs this weekend on "Oprah: Where Are They Now," on Saturday, April 25, at 10 p.m. ET on OWN.

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