May 01, 2004
Yates appeal filed

An appeal has been filed by Andrea Yates' lawyer, which alleges numerous mistakes in the trial, bad testimony from Dr. Park Dietz, and that Texas' insanity statute is unconstitutional.

"The standards presently in place are extremely archaic and do nothing for mental illness, and in this case, for women," Yates attorney George Parnham said. "We have an opportunity in this case to help the mentally ill, particularly those entangled in the justice system."

A spokesman for the Harris County district attorney's office could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Yates admitted to the June 20, 2001, bathtub drownings of her children -- Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months. She was charged, however, only in the drownings of Noah, John and Mary.

Yates was convicted in March 2002 and sentenced to life in prison.

Parnham filed the appeal about an hour before the 5 p.m. deadline set Thursday by the 1st Court of Appeals when it denied his request to be replaced by a Washington, D.C., law firm.

"Nevertheless, I will do everything in the world I can to help Andrea's case," Parnham said.

Parnham said his law firm asked to be replaced following a request by Arnold & Porter, a larger firm with more resources.

He said Arnold & Porter at some point came in contact with the Yates family, but he did not know who requested its services.

"It was not my idea," Parnham said. He and attorneys Wendell Odom and Daucie Shefman were donating their time on the case, he said.

The strain on his smaller law firm is much greater than it would be on Arnold & Porter. "I don't have a 700-member staff to devote to this issue," he said.

The court probably rejected his request to be replaced because it was filed so late and the court was concerned that new attorneys would lack the time to properly prepare, Parnham said.


The appeal focuses on Dietz's testimony under cross examination in which he mentioned an episode in Law and Order.

Dietz testified that the episode portrayed a woman who drowned her children and was acquitted by reason of insanity, the same defense Yates used.

A prosecutor said during his final argument that the episode inspired Yates to drown her children as a way to end her marriage.

After Yates was convicted, it was discovered that no such episode had been broadcast. Jurors were told about the incorrect testimony before the trial's punishment phase began.

A Harris County grand jury declined to indict Dietz on perjury charges.

The appeal alleges that the trial court should have declared a mistrial when the judge learned about the incorrect testimony and that the false testimony violated Yates' constitutional right to due process.

It also alleges that Yates was denied equal protection under the law "because the Texas sanity standard fails to recognize the biological reality that no man can suffer from postpartum psychosis because no man can bear a child."

Parnham called the standard "gender-based discrimination."

Another Texas law challenged by the appeal prohibits jurors from being told the consequences of an insanity verdict.

"It permits a jury to think that (Yates) can walk out the door and ride down the elevator to freedom" if she were declared not guilty by reason of insanity.

Parnham wanted to tell the jury that such a verdict would mean treatment at a mental facility and not automatic release.

The appeal also said the trial court should not have allowed articles of the children's clothing and photos of children in the morgue and the crime scene to be shown to the jury because they were prejudicial.

It has been my belief all along that Andrea Yates is not evil but ill, and that no one's interests are served by having her in a regular prison. As such, I hope that she is granted a new trial by the appeals court. Stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 01, 2004 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack