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Judge delays Andrea Yates retrial to late June

Andrea Yates, whose capital murder convictions for the 2001 drowning deaths of her five children were overturned on appeal, will face trial again Monday.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A judge Monday postponed Andrea Yates’ murder retrial until June because of a scheduling conflict, setting a new trial date that comes just days after the fifth anniversary of her children’s drowning deaths.

Jury selection had been set to begin Monday, but Yates’ attorneys told the judge that two defense experts wouldn’t be able to testify in time. Attorneys George Parnham and Wendell Odom said the psychiatrists were extremely important to their defense and that trying Yates without them would “deny her a fair trial.”

On Monday, state District Judge Belinda Hill set jury selection for June 22, with testimony to begin June 26. Prosecutor Alan Curry said the state could also use the time to better prepare its case.

Yates was convicted of murder in 2002, but the conviction was overturned because a forensic psychiatrist gave false testimony. She again pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity for her second trial. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

The new trial date will be just days after the fifth anniversary of the killings. Yates called police to her Houston home on June 20, 2001, and an officer found the bodies of her four youngest children — John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2 and Mary, 6-months — laid out on a bed. The oldest, 7-year-old Noah, was floating face-down in the tub.

Parnham said he worries about Yates’ mental state around the anniversary of the deaths. “Sometimes it is good. Sometimes it is not so good,” he said of her reaction.

To prove insanity, Yates must show she suffered from a severe mental disease or defect and didn’t know her actions were wrong.

Rusty Yates opens the car door for his new bride Laura Arnold as they leave the Clear Lake Church of Christ after being married Saturday, March 18, 2006 in Clear Lake, Texas. Yates former wife, Andrea Yates, drowned their five children in a bathtub in 2001. Her retrial on murder charges opens Monday. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)David J. Phillip / AP

Psychiatrists in her first trial testified she suffered from schizophrenia and postpartum depression, but expert witnesses disagreed over the severity of her illness and whether it prevented her from knowing that drowning the children was wrong.

Her former husband, Rusty Yates, divorced her in March 2005, three years after she was sentenced to life in prison.

Rusty Yates married Laura Arnold, 41, during a private ceremony Saturday at the church where they met. The minister said Yates chose to move on with his life while resisting temptation to pity himself.

Parnham said it likely wasn’t easy for his client during the weekend when her former husband remarried.

However, Rusty Yates had told her months ago that the wedding was planned, and she was chatty — talking with her attorneys, her mother and others — before Monday’s brief court hearing.

“I’m holding up,” Yates told Betsy Schwartz, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston, who approached Yates as she sat at the defense table. “It is good to see you.”

Yates’ mental state has been under constant monitoring while she has been at the Rusk State Hospital.