- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

HOUSTON Andrea Yates, the 37-year-old housewife who admitted she drowned her five children, was convicted of murder yesterday by a jury that rejected her claim of insanity in just 3 hours.
Yates, who could be sentenced only to death or to life in prison, showed little reaction as she stood between her attorneys during the verdict. In the courtroom, her husband, Russell, muttered "Oh God." He shook and cried as his mother, Dora Yates, held her arms around him.
The penalty phase begins today.
Yates was convicted of two charges of capital murder. The charges cover the deaths of three of her children.
"I'm not critiquing or criticizing the verdict," defense attorney George Parnham said. "But it seems to me we are still back in the days of the Salem witch trials."
He described his client as "very upset." Prosecutors left the courthouse without comment.
Late yesterday, Mr. Yates, his mother and brother were among about a dozen people who took part in a candlelight vigil outside the Harris County Courthouse.
"This is for Andrea. We want to show that we love and respect her," Mrs. Yates said. "We want everyone to know this has been a travesty of justice."
Deliberations began at midday after prosecutors told the jury of eight women and four men that even though Yates was mentally ill, she knew drowning her children was wrong and thus was guilty of murder.
"That's the key," prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said. "Andrea Yates knew right from wrong, and she made a choice on June 20 to kill her children deliberately and with deception."
The defense argued that she suffered from postpartum depression so severe that she had lost her ability for rational thought.
"We can't permit objective logic to be imposed on the actions of Andrea Yates," Mr. Parnham said in his closing statement. "She was so psychotic on June 20 that she absolutely believed what she was doing was the right thing to do."
Mr. Parnham also told the jury in the closely watched case: "This is an opportunity for this jury to make a determination about the status of women's mental health. Make no mistake: The world is watching."
After deliberating about 2 hours, jurors passed a note to District Judge Belinda Hill asking for the definition of insanity. Thirty minutes later, jurors asked for a cassette player. Among items in evidence are audiotapes of Yates' confession and her 911 call to police the day of the drownings.
Last year, Yates called her five children into the bathroom one by one and drowned them in the tub, then called 911 to tell authorities what she had done. Police found 7-year-old Noah in the tub; the other children were under a wet sheet on a bed.
According to testimony, Yates was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of raising five children and believed she was a bad mother. She had suffered severe depression and had attempted suicide.
She was on trial for the deaths of Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary, though only two capital murder charges were filed.
One count listed the killings of Noah and John as two victims killed during the commission of the same crime. The second count lists the death of Mary as a child under the age of 6. Multiple killings as part of the same crime and the death of a child are both aggravating factors that Texas law defines as making a murder case eligible for the death penalty.
By not listing all the children in a single count, prosecutors also avoided the chance that an acquittal could void all the charges. If necessary, they could have filed charges later in the deaths of the other two youngsters, Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.
Defense attorneys claimed that postpartum depression rendered Yates insane and the case became a cause celebre for some feminist and mental-illness groups.
"I'm disappointed and shocked, but not surprised because of where the trial took place and the way the law is written in Texas," said Jane Honikman, founding director of Postpartum Support International.
"In some states, it's easier for the defense to raise this kind of plea. But apparently not in Texas. As an organization, we are very upset."
An expert witness for the defense told the jury that while Yates knew drowning her children was illegal, in her delusional mind she thought it was the only way to save her children from eternal damnation.


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