- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

HOUSTON — An appeals court, citing false statements made by the prosecution’s chief witness, yesterday overturned the capital murder conviction of a Houston-area woman who drowned her five children in June 2001.

The reversal, however, does not mean Andrea Yates will be released from prison or that she will receive a new trial.

Harris County officials said they will appeal the decision and, if necessary, take the case to the Texas Supreme Court.

Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry said the prosecution presented a considerable amount of other evidence at the trial showing Mrs. Yates was guilty of premeditated murder. The trial cost taxpayers an estimated $1 million.

The defense team had argued before the state’s 230th District Court of Appeals last month that the prosecution’s prominent psychiatric witness, Dr. Park Dietz, had unfairly influenced the jury by claiming he had consulted on a segment of the TV series “Law & Order” about a murder case similar to that of Mrs. Yates.

He then testified that he thought Mrs. Yates knew what she was doing when she drowned the children and probably had watched the TV episode, in which the defendant had been found not guilty of the same type of crime because of insanity.

Producers of “Law & Order” soon informed defense attorneys that no such show ever aired.

The defense said Mrs. Yates did not plan the murders, but suffered from postpartum depression and was unaware of the consequences of what she was doing.

Mr. Curry called Dr. Dietz’s testimony “an interesting issue, but it’s not something that should have played a large role in the jury’s verdict, based on the other testimony and the facts presented.”

Tom Mills, a leading Dallas defense lawyer, said Mrs. Yates probably would receive a new trial.

He said the ruling was handed down by Justice Sam Nuchia, one of the appeals court’s most conservative members, who had served as a homicide detective and a prosecutor before being named to the court.

George Parnham, Mrs. Yates’ chief attorney, said he informed his client by telephone of the court’s ruling and that she was “very pleased.”

Mr. Parnham said the defense would make no effort to gain immediate release for Mrs. Yates.

“She’s where she needs to be right now, getting psychiatric help,” he said.

Prison Warden Todd Foxworth of the Skyview psychiatric unit near the town of Rusk, where Mrs. Yates is being held, said Mrs. Yates “smiled and said she was basically just kind of in shock” when she learned of the court’s decision. “But she was very happy. Physically and mentally, she’s doing as well as I’ve ever seen her.”

Russell Yates, Mrs. Yates’ husband and the young victims’ father, was informed by a reporter of the development. He supported his wife throughout the trial.

“It’s good news,” he told the Houston Chronicle.

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