- The Washington Times - Monday, February 18, 2002

HOUSTON (AP) The fate of Andrea Yates hinges on whether jurors believe she knew the difference between right and wrong when she drowned her five young children in their bathtub, then called 911 and told police what she had done.
The jury begins hearing evidence today in the trial of the 37-year-old woman who faces two capital murder charges in the June 20 deaths of three of her five children, ranging in age from 6 months to 7 years.
Defense attorneys say Mrs. Yates is innocent by reason of insanity. They will try to prove that she suffered from a severe mental disease or defect which prevented her from knowing that holding her children beneath water until they could no longer breathe was wrong.
"We know that drowning children is wrong," defense attorney George Parnham said during jury selection. "Objectively, we could all sit here and say those actions are wrong, but you're going to be asked to view those actions through her eyes."
Legal experts say Mr. Parnham could face a difficult job during the trial, which is expected to last three weeks.
"When you have a crime like this that is so heinous, I think the jurors' inclinations are likely going to be somewhat disinclined to find insanity," Baylor University law professor Brian Serr said. "The fact that she called the police right afterward and reported herself in essence really undermines the fact that she thought what she was doing was right."
Before jurors get to hear evidence about Mrs. Yates' mental state at the time of the drownings, they will hear the details of the case, including the 911 call Mrs. Yates placed after she drowned the last child, Noah, 7, whose body was discovered face down in a bathtub half full of water.
They will also hear the confession Mrs. Yates gave to police when they arrived at her door, an account of how the officers found the youngest four children's wet bodies on a bed covered with a sheet, and a taped interview that followed her arrest.
Prosecutors will likely point to testimony from Mrs. Yates' competency hearing that she made the decision to drown her children the night before, and that after her husband left for work, she carried out the intention, one child at a time, before her mother-in-law was to arrive.
Mrs. Yates attempted suicide twice after the birth of her fourth child in 1999 and was warned by a doctor to consider carefully whether she should have any more children.
One of the capital murder charges is for the deaths of Noah and 5-year-old John. The other is for 6-month-old Mary. Texas law considers a murder a capital offense if more than one person is killed or if the victim is under age 6.
Charges are pending in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2. Texas prosecutors typically forgo multiple capital murder charges since only one conviction is generally needed for the maximum penalty.


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