Yates found not guilty in kids’ deaths
HOUSTON – Texas mother Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity on Wednesday in her second trial for drowning her five young children in a bathtub in 2001.
The verdict was a sharp reversal of the one in Yates’ 2002 trial when a different jury convicted her of capital murder and sentenced her to life in prison.
Yates, 42, will not go free because of Wednesday’s verdict, but will be sent to a state mental hospital for treatment. She will remain there until state District Judge Belinda Hill decides she is sane and safe enough to be released, a process that could take years.
Yates, who is being treated with anti-psychotic drugs, looked stunned and tears welled in her eyes when the verdict was read. She hugged defense attorney George Parnham, who also defended her in the first trial, before she was led away by a court bailiff.
“The right thing was done,” Parnham told reporters. “This case is almost a watershed for mental illness and the criminal justice system.”
“It’s a miracle,” tearful ex-husband Rusty Yates said of the verdict. “The prosecution spent five years trying to come up with a motive in this case and missed the most obvious one — that she was psychotic.”
Todd Frank, foreman of the six-man, six-woman jury agreed, saying that while some jurors wanted a finding of guilty, it was impossible not to see that Yates was very ill.
“It was very clear to us all that (the doctors who cared for her) believed she had psychosis before, during and after” the crime, he told reporters.
“I hope this will help to prevent something like this from every happening again,” said Frank, a 33-year-old marketing manager.
Yates had to be retried after the 2002 conviction was overturned on appeal because of flawed testimony by the prosecution’s star witness.
HISTORY OF MENTAL PROBLEMS
Yates had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts when, on June 20, 2001, she drowned Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, six months, one by one in the family bathtub while Rusty Yates was at his job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Witnesses for the defense said Andrea Yates suffered from a delusion induced by postpartum psychosis that drowning the children would spare them from the devil and damnation.
Prosecutors agreed that Yates was sick but said she was sane enough to know killing the children was wrong.
“We are extremely disappointed with the verdict,” lead prosecutor Joe Owmby told reporters.
Yates was being tried for the murder of only three of her children, but Owmby said he would recommend to District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal that he not seek a trial for the other two.
The case became a cause celebre for women’s groups and mental health advocates, who said postpartum depression was inadequately treated in many cases.
Betsy Schwartz, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston, said the verdict “reflected the growth in public understanding” of mental illness.
“It offers justice to a woman whose severe mental illness was never in question,” she said in a statement.
In the first trial, prosecutors sought the death penalty for Yates, a former nurse and high school valedictorian, but the jury gave her a life sentence.
Yates was in prison most of the past four years before her conviction was thrown out because forensic psychologist Park Dietz testified for prosecutors that she might have gotten the idea for the crime from an episode of the television program “Law and Order.”
It turned out that no episode similar to the case ever aired. Dietz testified again in this trial but did not repeat his false testimony nor did Hill permit questioning about it.
Rusty Yates divorced Andrea last year and has remarried, but said they remain good friends who speak often of their lost children.