- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

HOUSTON (Reuters) — Prosecutors charged that Andrea Yates was sane enough to know she had done wrong when she drowned her five children five years ago, as the retrial of the Texas woman got under way yesterday.

In their opening statement, Mrs. Yates’ attorneys argued that she was so mentally ill she thought she was helping her children when she drowned them in their Houston home. Mrs. Yates was convicted of murder in 2002, but an appeals court threw out the verdict because of false testimony by a key prosecution witness.

As in her first trial, Mrs. Yates pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the murder charges that could send her back to prison for life.

Mrs. Yates, now 41, drowned the children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years, in the bathtub of their home on June 20, 2001, while husband Rusty Yates was at work.

Testimony showed she had been treated in mental hospitals on several occasions for severe postpartum depression after the births of her children and just two days before killing them had been told by a psychiatrist that she needed to “think happy thoughts.”

The lanky, long-haired Mrs. Yates has spent most of the past four years in prison receiving treatment and yesterday looked much more lucid and animated than in her first trial.

A retrial was ordered because the prosecution’s mental health expert in the first trial, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, implied that Mrs. Yates may have plotted to kill her children and then claim mental illness because of an episode of NBC drama “Law & Order.” It turned out no such episode existed, so a state appeals court threw out the conviction.

Yates attorney George Parnham told jurors that Mrs. Yates was so delusional she thought the devil lived within her and the only way to keep him from getting her children was to kill them while they were still innocent.

Prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said Mrs. Yates was calm and rational when she called police to her home after drowning the children one by one.

She told police she “had contemplated the death of her children for approximately two years” and “that she knew it was wrong and that she knew she would be punished,” she said.

Under Texas law, Mrs. Yates, a former nurse and high school valedictorian, does not face the death penalty in this trial because the jury in the 2002 proceedings gave her a life sentence. Since her conviction, Mr. Yates has divorced her and remarried, but he is scheduled to testify on her behalf .

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