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Court clears way for Andrea Yates retrial

Texas' highest criminal court on Wednesday let stand a lower-court ruling that threw out Andrea Yates’ murder convictions for drowning her five children in 2001.
Andrea Yates is shown in this Texas Department of Criminal Justice photo from 2002. AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday let stand a lower-court ruling that threw out Andrea Yates’ murder convictions for drowning her children in a bathtub in 2001.

Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry said the case will be retried or a plea bargain considered. Jurors rejected Yates’ insanity defense in 2002 and found her guilty of two capital murder charges for the deaths of three of her five children.

A lower-court ruling in January had thrown out the convictions because of erroneous testimony that prosecutors used to suggest that Yates had gotten the idea for the killings from an episode of the television show “Law & Order.”

Curry had asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reconsider the appellate ruling, but the high court refused.

Curry said if the case goes back to trial, he is confident Yates will be convicted again. She had been sentenced to life in prison.

Yates ‘knew that it was wrong’
“Andrea Yates knew precisely what she was doing,” Curry said. “She knew that it was wrong.”

Yates’ attorney, George Parnham, said that although he wants to avoid another trial for his client, he doubts he and prosecutors can reach a plea agreement that addresses Yates’ mental health needs. Yates has been treated for years for severe depression and other disorders that require anti-psychotic drugs.

Russell Yates, who stood by his wife throughout the trial but later divorced her, said she never should have been tried for their children’s deaths.

“I think everyone would lose again if they brought her back to trial,” he said. “Although, if she does go back to trial she could be found not guilty by reason of insanity.”

Russell Yates said he visits his former wife once a month in prison. He said she belongs in a state hospital, where “the primary emphasis is on care and not security.”

The lower court, the First Court of Appeals in Houston, agreed with Yates’ attorney that erroneous testimony from forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz could have swayed jurors who otherwise might have found Yates was insane.

Dietz, who consulted for “Law & Order,” testified that shortly before the killings occurred, an episode ran about a woman who drowned her children and was found innocent by reason of insanity. But it turned out that no such “Law & Order” episode existed.

Drowned her five children
On June 20, 2001, Yates drowned her five children one by one, then called police to her Houston home and showed them the bodies of Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and 6-month-old Mary. Prosecutors say it is not unusual in multiple death cases to file charges in only some cases.

Yates, 41, pleaded insanity, and according to testimony at the trial, she was overwhelmed by motherhood, considered herself a bad mother, suffered postpartum depression, had attempted suicide and had been hospitalized for depression.

Five mental health experts testified she did not know right from wrong or that she thought drowning her children was right. Dietz was the only mental health expert to testify for the prosecution and the only one who testified she knew right from wrong.

Yates has caused no problems in prison, where she works on inventory and stocking items in the commissary, prison spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said.