Court orders retrial for Andrea Yates

Texan was found guilty of drowning her 5 kids

November 10, 2005|By LIANNE HART | LIANNE HART,LOS ANGELES TIMES

HOUSTON -- Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub, likely will be retried next year after the state's highest criminal court yesterday upheld a lower court's decision to toss out the murder convictions against her.

"We are very close to being back to square one, meaning a retrial," her lawyer, George Parnham, said. "It's a real good feeling that is tempered by our concern. Can you imagine the impact on her to hear once again what another Andrea Yates did in 2001? The Andrea Yates who committed the acts is not mentally the same individual today."

Prosecutors said they had not decided whether to ask for a new trial, but they asserted their belief that a second jury also would convict Yates of murder. "The facts are on our side, and the law is on our side," Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry said. "Andrea Yates knew what she was doing was wrong, though she did have a severe mental illness."

The decision yesterday by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals followed a lower court ruling in which faulty testimony by a prosecution witness was found to have possibly influenced the jury.

During Yates' trial, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz suggested that she had patterned the killings after an episode of the television drama Law & Order in which a woman who drowned children in a bathtub was found innocent by reason of insanity. But no such episode ever aired, and the lower court ruled that the erroneous testimony was enough to overturn the jury's guilty verdicts.

Yates, 41, is serving a life sentence. She admitted to drowning all of her children - Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months - on June 20, 2001, telling police she was sparing them from eternal damnation. Yates, who home-schooled her children and rarely left the house without them, had been hospitalized with severe postpartum depression and had previously attempted suicide.

At her trial, Yates pleaded insanity. Of the six mental health experts who testified, Dietz was the only one who said she had known right from wrong.

Wendell Odom, another of Yates' attorneys, said that three years after her trial, "more people understand what's going on. What this case is really about is how we treat our mentally ill. Education is our ally. The more people know what really happened, the more likely they will find this lady not guilty so she can go to a hospital."

Parnham said he had not spoken to Yates but believed she had been informed of the court's decision.

Lianne Hart writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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