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Testimony concludes in Yates murder trial

/ Source: The Associated Press

Testimony in the Andrea Yates murder case ended Thursday after a nearly monthlong retrial that included some new witnesses but no appearance by Rusty Yates, her ex-husband and father of the children she is accused of drowning.

State District Judge Belinda Hill set closing arguments for Monday and recessed court until then. The jury will be sequestered during deliberations.

Yates, 42, was retried in the drowning deaths of her children because an appeals court overturned her 2002 conviction because some erroneous testimony may have influenced jurors. Yates is charged in only three of the five children’s deaths, which is not unusual in multiple slayings.

Yates again pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.

The state’s key new witness was forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, who evaluated Yates for two days in May.

Welner testified that Yates killed the youngsters because she felt overwhelmed and inadequate as a mother, not for any altruistic or religious motives. Welner said he found no evidence she suffered from delusions on the day of the murders.

Key prosecution witness returns
The state also brought back its key witness from the first trial, Dr. Park Dietz, whose testimony led to Yates’ conviction being overturned.

The forensic psychiatrist had testified in her first trial that an episode of the television series “Law & Order” depicted a woman who was acquitted by reason of insanity after drowning her children. But those involved in Yates’ case later learned no such episode existed.

The judge barred attorneys in this trial from mentioning that issue.

Yates’ attorneys say she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis when she killed 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John, 3-year-old-Paul, 2-year-old Luke and 6-month-old Mary. They say she meets Texas’ definition of insanity: that a severe mental illness prevents someone who is committing a crime from knowing it is wrong.

Among the new defense witnesses was a psychiatric nurse in the mental hospital where Yates stayed twice in the two months before the drownings.

Sherry Steinocher testified that when Yates’ husband brought their children to visit and insisted that she hold the baby, nurses had to position Yates’ hands and place Mary in her arms. Yates was unresponsive and almost dropped her.

Husband may testify
Rusty Yates did not testify, as he did in the first trial. He was sworn in as a witness the first day, and defense attorneys said during the trial that they might ask him to testify.

His aunt, Fairy Caroland, said Thursday that he does not know why he was not asked to testify but that he wanted to because he still supports Andrea, whom he divorced last year.

Rusty Yates, who remarried in March, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.

At the first trial, he blamed the children’s deaths on his wife’s severe postpartum depression.

If convicted, Andrea Yates will be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors could not seek the death penalty this time because the first trial’s jury rejected execution, and authorities found no new evidence.

If found not guilty by reason of insanity, Yates will be committed to a state mental hospital.