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Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity

AP, via CNN, USA
July 26, 2006
www.cnn.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Wednesday July 26, 2006

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) — Andrea Yates was found not guilty by reason of insanity Wednesday in her second murder trial for the bathtub drownings of her young children.

Yates, 42, will now be committed to a state mental hospital, with periodic hearings before a judge to determine whether she should be released. An earlier jury had found her guilty of murder, but the verdict was overturned on appeal.

The defense never disputed that Yates drowned her five children one by one in the bathtub of their Houston-area home. But they said she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and, in a delusional state, believed Satan was inside her and was trying to save them from hell.

Yates stared wide-eyed in court Wednesday as the verdict was read. She then bowed her head and wept quietly.

The children’s father said the jury had reached the right conclusion.

“The jury looked past what happened and looked at why it happened,” Rusty Yates told reporters outside the courthouse. “Prosecutors had the truth of the first day and stopped there. Yes, she was psychotic. That’s the whole truth.”

Rusty Yates divorced Andrea Yates after the children’s June 2001 deaths and recently remarried. He said they are still “friends” and reminisce about the children.

The jury, split evenly men to women, deliberated for about 12 hours over three days before reaching its verdict. On Wednesday, the jurors listened again to the state definition of insanity and asked to see pictures of the five young children: baby Mary, 2-year-old Luke, 3-year-old Paul, 5-year-old John and 7-year-old Noah.

See Also

Andrea Yates is said to have been influenced by Michael Peter and Rachel Woroniecki, so-called ‘preachers’ whose extremist views and behavior place them outside the norms of normal Christianity

Resources on this case: articles, audio, video, photos, available at the web site of the Houston Chronicle

Book: Breaking Point, by Suzy Spencer

Prosecutors had maintained that Yates failed to meet the state’s definition of insanity: that a severe mental illness prevents someone who is committing a crime from knowing that it is wrong.

The jury had not been told that if they found her insane that Yates would be committed to a mental institution for treatment. If found guilty of murder she would have faced life in prison.

“I’m very disappointed,” prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said. “For five years, we’ve tried to seek justice for these children.”

In her first trial, Yates was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison. An appeals court overturned the conviction last year because erroneous testimony about a “Law & Order” television episode that didn’t exist could have influenced the jury.

Defense attorneys presented much of the same evidence as in the first trial, including half a dozen psychiatrists who testified that Yates was so psychotic that she didn’t know her actions were wrong. They said that in her delusional mind, she thought killing the youngsters was right.

Some testified about her two hospitalizations after suicide attempts in 1999, not long after her fourth child was born. At the time, the family lived in a converted bus. Dr. Eileen Starbranch, a psychiatrist, again testified about how she warned Yates and her husband not to have more children because her postpartum psychosis would probably return.

Yates’ stayed in a mental hospital for about two weeks in April and 10 days in May 2001. Psychiatrists testified that she was catatonic and wouldn’t eat and that her postpartum condition from Mary’s birth in November worsened after her father died in March.

Yates did not testify. But a few state and defense psychiatrists who evaluated Yates played some videotaped segments for jurors.

During a July 2001 jail interview, Yates told psychiatrist Lucy Puryear that her children had not been progressing normally because she was a bad mother, and that she killed them because “in their innocence, they would go to heaven.”

The state’s key witness was Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed Yates for two days in May. He testified that Yates killed the youngsters because she felt overwhelmed and inadequate as a mother, not for altruistic reasons.

Welner said that although Yates may have been psychotic on the day of the murders, it wasn’t until the next day in jail that she talked about Satan, wanting to be executed and saving her kids from hell. He said the hallucination may have been triggered by the stresses of being naked in a cell on suicide watch and realizing what she had done.

Welner said Yates knew her actions were wrong and showed it in multiple ways: waiting until her husband left for work to kill them, covering the bodies with a sheet and calling 911 soon after the crime.

Prosecutors also brought back a key witness from the first trial, Dr. Park Dietz, the forensic psychiatrist whose testimony led to her conviction being overturned. The judge barred attorneys in this trial from mentioning the earlier testimony problem.

Dietz again testified that Yates knew killing her children was wrong because she knew it was a sin.

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