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Retrial Likely in Children's Drownings

November 10, 2005|Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Andrea Pia Yates, the Texas woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub, probably will be retried next year after the state's highest criminal court on Wednesday 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 would convict Yates of murder as well. "The facts are on our side, and the law is on our side," Harris County Assistant Dist. Atty. Alan Curry said. "Andrea Yates knew what she was doing was wrong, though she did have a severe mental illness."

Wednesday's decision by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals followed a January lower-court ruling in which faulty testimony by a prosecution witness was found to have possibly influenced the jury.

During Yates' 2002 trial, Newport Beach 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 not guilty 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 the June 20, 2001, drownings of all of her children -- Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months -- 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 not guilty by reason of insanity. Of the six mental health experts who testified, Dietz was the only one who said she had known right from wrong.

Yates' lawyer Wendell Odom 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. A plea bargain, he said, was unlikely because he could not in good conscience ask Yates to plead guilty to the deaths when she was mentally ill.

"We will examine all possibilities to arrive at a resolution," Parnham said.

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