September 12, 2003
Grand jury examining Yates trial testimony

A Houston grand jury is looking into some erroneous statements made by Dr. Park Dietz, an expert witness for the prosecution during his testimony in the trial of Andrea Yates.

Nationally renowned for his work on cases such as those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, Dietz was a key prosecution witness in Yates' trial. He was paid $50,000 for his services.

Shortly before the end of testimony, defense attorney George Parhnam asked Dietz, who is a consultant for the television drama Law and Order, about his work on the show.

Dietz told jurors that an episode about a mother who drowned her children and was acquitted with an insanity defense had aired before Yates killed her five children in the same manner.

In his closing arguments, prosecutor [Joe] Owmby implied that Yates had been influenced by the episode Dietz described, saying Yates saw the show as a way out of her trapped marriage.

The jury rejected Yates' insanity defense and found her guilty of capital murder. It was not until two days after that verdict that the defense learned that no such episode existed.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors, who said they learned of the mistake from Dietz after closing arguments, wrote a statement about the error that was read to jurors before they decided on Yates' punishment -- life in prison.

Since then, defense attorneys, on the Yates case and others, have questioned the nature and impact of Dietz's inaccurate testimony, which he and prosecutors have labeled as an honest mistake.

I'm willing to accept that this was an honest mistake by Dr. Dietz, and I'm willing to accept that he and the prosecutors did everything they could to notify the court once it came to light. I'm not willing to cut them any slack about it, and frankly I think it should be grounds to void her conviction. In Texas, to be acquitted on grounds of insanity, one must prove that at the time the crime was committed, the defendant did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong. It's a very tough standard to meet, and it's rarely successful. The prosecution used Dietz's false memory to help knock down the insanity defense, and I for one am willing to bet that this story did a damned good job of it. I hope the appeals court takes a very dim view of it.

That said, I have no clue, and the story gives no clear indication, why a grand jury is looking into this. I suppose a perjury charge against Dietz is one possibility, but beyond that I can't say. Any lawyers wanna speculate for me?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 12, 2003 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

Well, doesn't sound like an honest mistake to me, but you seem to be a nicer person than I am.

Considering that her husband saddled the woman with five kids against medical advice, got a preacher in to bully her into dropping her psychiatrist, left her home alone homeschooling the eldest and caring for toddlers at the same time with severe diagnosed and untreated PPD and then dumped her like a hot rock so he could make the christian circuit looking for breeder number 2, can we arrange to have him fixed when she gets out of prison? The man should not have children, ever.

Posted by: julia on September 13, 2003 9:48 AM

IIRC, this is the same "renegade" grand jury which started the investigation into the HPD lab.

This jury is not being run by the prosecutors.

As to Julia's comment, I am firmly convinced the SOB should have been changed with something. I really believe he was more at fault than she was.

Posted by: Charles M on September 14, 2003 7:29 PM

Dietz testimnony was disputed by a writer for Law and Order who happened to be in the courtroom, and who knew his testimony was false.

An "error"? I do not believe I would cut any person that much slack, and certainly not an expert witness.

Harold A. Maio

Posted by: Harold A. Maio on February 6, 2004 9:43 PM