DA: New trial for Andrea Yates
Plea bargain possible in child-drowning case
Wednesday, November 9, 2005; A Texas appeals court refused to reinstate Andrea Yates' conviction for drowning her children.
HOUSTON, Texas (AP) -- Texas' 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 June 2001.
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry said the case would 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.
Curry said if the case goes back to trial, he is confident Yates would be convicted again. He said a plea bargain also may be discussed.
"Andrea Yates knew precisely what she was doing," Curry said. "She knew that it was wrong."
Yates' attorney, George Parnham told CNN that he hoped Yates belongs mental health facility, not behind bars.
"She has been told she will be retried," Parhnam said. "She doesn't want to go through this process. She is very concerned about it. The right thing needs to be done here."
The First Court of Appeals in Houston overturned Yates' 2002 convictions in January because of false testimony from forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz.
Curry asked the highest criminal court in Texas, based in Austin, to reconsider the lower court's ruling. He said the lower court wrongly applied the law when it overturned the convictions.
Ruling gives Yates a chance for treatment, husband says
Woman to remain in prison after court overturns convictions
(CNN) -- The husband of Andrea Yates, who admitted she drowned the couple's five children, said a Texas appellate court's decision to throw out her murder convictions gives prosecutors a chance to seek treatment for his wife's mental illness.
Russell Yates made the comments Thursday evening in an exclusive interview on CNN's "Larry King Live."
"If they drop charges against her, then she'd go to a mental hospital and then the doctors would decide when she's well enough to go home," Yates said. "They've treated her like a serial killer, and my feeling all along has been it's a waste of the taxpayers' money to prosecute her."
But a spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office said prosecutors will ask the appellate court to reconsider its ruling striking down Andrea Yates' convictions, and, if that fails, they will appeal the ruling to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Yates' attorneys said that despite the ruling, they will not seek her release from the prison psychiatric ward immediately.
"She is in the very best possible place, all things considered, at this time and in this place under these circumstances," said George Parnham, her lead attorney.
Parnham said his client was "surprised and not unpleased" by Thursday's ruling.
In June 2001, Yates drowned her children -- Mary, 6 months; Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; and Luke, 2 -- in the bathtub of her Houston-area home. The charges did not include the deaths of Paul and Luke. In March 2002, a jury convicted her of capital murder for the deaths of the other three.
She had a well-documented history of postpartum depression, and her attorneys argued that she suffered from postpartum psychosis, but the jury rejected her plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
The difference between a verdict of guilty and one of not guilty by reason of insanity in the Yates trial hinged on one key issue: whether Yates knew what she was doing when she drowned the children was wrong.
Both the defense and prosecution agreed Yates is mentally ill, but prosecutors convinced the jury that she knew her actions were wrong.
Under Texas law, defendants can be declared not guilty by reason of insanity only if it is determined they did not know right from wrong at the time of the crime.
Thursday, the Texas 1st Court of Appeals overturned the convictions and ordered a new trial. That court found that an expert prosecution witness, Dr. Park Dietz, provided false testimony that "could have affected the judgment of the jury."
Dietz, who worked as consultant for NBC's "Law and Order" program, testified that there was an episode dealing with a woman suffering from postpartum depression who drowned her children in a bathtub and was found to have been insane.
Yates, now 40, apparently was a fan of the show and watched it regularly.
Dietz suggested that Yates might have been inspired to kill her children because of that specific episode. But on appeal, the defense said it contacted the producers of the show, who said such an episode was never aired.
"We conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that Dr. Dietz's false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury," the appeals court found. "We further conclude that Dr. Dietz's false testimony affected the substantial rights of the appellant."
The appeals court ruling found that Dietz did not intentionally lie and the prosecution did not knowingly use false testimony.
Dietz released a statement Thursday evening saying that he learned a week after his testimony, while the trial was still under way, "that my recall of a particular episode might be mistaken." He said sent a letter informing attorneys in the case about the mistake and offered to return to Houston to correct the error.
"Unfortunately, neither of the parties introduced this letter into the record, so the judges were unaware of what had happened," he said in his statement. "I made an honest mistake and took immediate steps to correct it."
Dietz said that as a consultant for "Law & Order," he has "read, discussed or watched" more than 200 shows, as well "as most episodes of other crime dramas aired for the last 20 years."
"My spontaneous recall about particular shows is admittedly imperfect," he said.
Dietz also said that at the time of his testimony, he did not know that another witness had testified that Yates watched the show -- disputing the idea that his testimony was somehow designed to show she premeditated the crime.
"At no time have I ever believed or told anyone that I thought 'Law & Order' or any other television show gave Andrea Yates the idea to kill her children," he said. "I believe, and testified, that she killed her children because of a psychotic mental illness. Evidence I relied on that tended to show she knew it was wrong included Mrs. Yates recorded statements, including my own interviews."
Parnham said Dietz's testimony was critical to the prosecution's argument that Yates knew what she was doing was wrong.
"Only one mental health expert testified that Andrea knew that what she was doing was wrong, and that was the celebrated Park Dietz," Parnham said. "Every other mental health expert ... testified that she was either incapable of knowing what she was doing was wrong or did not know what she was doing was wrong."
Now that a retrial is possible, Parnham emphasized that a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity "does not mean that an individual is released."
"I am certain that there are circumstances in her future that can be addressed that would be outside four walls of razor wire," he said. "I don't believe that Andrea will ever be in a position to be free of any type of mental health assistance."
Rusty Yates told King that he was "extremely surprised" by the court's favorable ruling.
"This court has really come under fire lately, because they've habitually ruled against the defendants and in favor of the state," he said. "They're very tough."
Yates stood by his wife throughout the trial, but last July, he filed for divorce.
"I forgive her for what she's done, and in many respects have never blamed her, she's hurt me tremendously through her actions," he said. "It's kind of a place I can't go back to."