- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

HOUSTON (AP) — Andrea Yates was found not guilty of murdering her children by reason of insanity yesterday in a retrial and will be committed to a state mental hospital for drowning her five children in a bathtub.

Mrs. Yates, whose 2002 murder conviction were overturned because of erroneous testimony from a prosecution witness, stared wide-eyed as the verdict was read. She then bowed her head and wept.

The children’s father, Rusty Yates, muttered, “Wow!” as he, too, cried.

“The jury looked past what happened and looked at why it happened,” Mr. Yates, who divorced his wife last year, said outside the courthouse. “Yes, she was psychotic. That’s the whole truth.”

Four years ago, another jury convicted Mrs. Yates of murder, rejecting claims that she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and, in a delusional state, believed that Satan was inside her and that killing the youngsters would save them from hell.

Mrs. Yates’ chief attorney, George Parnham, called the verdict this time a “watershed event in the treatment of mental illness.”

Mrs. Yates drowned 6-month-old Mary, 2-year-old Luke, 3-year-old Paul, 5-year-old John and 7-year-old Noah in their Houston-area home in June 2001.

Mrs. Yates’ 2002 conviction triggered debate over whether Texas’ legal standard for mental illness was too rigid, whether the courts treated postpartum depression seriously enough, and whether a mother who kills could ever find sympathy and understanding in a tough-on-crime state like Texas.

Prosecutors argued Mrs. Yates failed to meet the state’s definition of insanity: She was so severely mentally ill that she did not know her actions were wrong.

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

Prosecution witness Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that Mrs. Yates killed the youngsters because she felt overwhelmed and inadequate as a mother, not to save their souls. He said that it was not until a day after the killings that she talked about Satan and saving her children from hell.

Dr. Welner also said Mrs. Yates showed that she knew her actions were wrong by waiting until her husband left for work to kill them, covering the bodies with a sheet and calling 911 soon after the crime.

Mrs. Yates, 42, will be held in Vernon State Mental Hospital, a prisonlike maximum-security facility, until she is no longer deemed a threat. She had faced life in prison.

The jury, split evenly between men and women, deliberated for about 13 hours over three days. The jurors had not been told that Mrs. Yates would be committed to a mental institution if found not guilty.

Experts say it can take decades before psychiatrists decide that a patient is healthy enough to be released, and even then a judge can reject those findings.

Mrs. Yates’ 2002 conviction was overturned by an appeals court after Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist, told the jury that before the drownings, NBC ran a “Law & Order” episode about a woman who was acquitted by reason of insanity after drowning her children. It was later found that no such episode existed.

Mrs. Yates did not testify in the retrial. Her lawyers presented much of the same evidence as in the first trial, including half a dozen psychiatrists who testified that she was insane.

During a videotaped 2001 jail interview, Mrs. Yates told a psychiatrist 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.”

Wendell Odom, another of Mrs. Yates’ attorneys, suggested that attitudes have changed since the first trial: “Five years ago there were a lot of people who could not get past the anger of what happened.”

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