January 07, 2005
What now for Andrea Yates?

The updated Chron story on the overturning of Andrea Yates' convictions has some info on what might come next.


The decision means that if prosecutors cannot get Yates' capital murder conviction restored through appeals, they will have to decide whether to put Yates on trial again.

"We are going to ask for a rehearing," Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry said.

[...]

Prosecutors said Thursday that they will ask the 1st Court of Appeals to reconsider its ruling. If that is unsuccessful, they expect to take the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest court.

Prosecutors argued that Dietz's remarks about the TV program were peripheral, compared with other evidence suggesting Yates was guilty and sane at the time of the killings.

If the appeals court's ruling is upheld, the District Attorney's Office will have to decide whether to seek a new trial.

Texas law allows for a new trial if a witness gives false testimony that may have influenced the verdict, legal experts said.

The decision surprised juror Leona Baker, who said Thursday she and the other jurors discounted Dietz's testimony, saying it did not have any weight in their decision to convict Yates.

"We heard (Dietz) talk about the episode of Law & Order, but it was never made clear that she actually watched that particular episode," Baker said.

Dru Stevenson, a criminal law professor at the South Texas College of Law, said the ruling didn't surprise him, adding that the testimony was "prejudicial."

Yates' attorneys said they would represent her again if a new trial is ordered, but Stevenson said that is unlikely.

"If I was a betting man, I would bet they will reach some sort of plea bargain," he said.

Yates' husband, Rusty, who filed for divorce in July, said on CNN's Larry King Live Thursday that he believes prosecutors should not pursue the case.

"I would like to see them drop the charges against her, and I would like to see her go to a state mental hospital until she is stable," he said. "I say safe, stable medically. I'd say it would be a few years.


I'd say it would be more than a few years, and if it's the rest of her life, that's OK. She's a very ill person, and that isn't going to be resolved any time soon.

Yates' mother, Jutta Karin Kennedy reacts to the decision:


"I have mixed emotions," said Kennedy, exhausted after spending the day talking to reporters and answering calls from friends and well-wishers. "If this does any good, I'll be happy. I just don't know."

Kennedy alternated between feelings of vindication she has said all along that Andrea was not murderous, but mentally ill and fear of a new trial with the same outcome.

She sighed heavily, not sure if she or her 40-year-old daughter could face that ordeal.

Since Yates has been at Skyview, near Rusk in northeast Texas, her mom has visited several times a month.

"It's a good day when I can go visit," Kennedy said. The other days are harder.

Kennedy said she got the news of the conviction reversal when the anchors for NBC's Today show, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, called about 7 a.m.

"I was speechless, shaking," she said. "The decision came out of the blue. I wasn't expecting to hear anything for four to six months."

She believes her daughter got the news an hour or two later from a Skyview warden. For now, she can only guess Yates' reaction. "I think she's been hoping for a reduction in her sentence. I just don't know."


One person I'm not feeling a lot of sympathy for is Dr. Park Dietz, whose incorrect testimony was the cause of the reversal.

"In a case like this, you ought to be very, very sure that the testimony you are giving is accurate," said Lucy Puryear, a forensic psychiatrist at Baylor College of Medicine who testified in Yates' defense. "I was incredulous that in a case where someone's life depended on it, that he could give testimony that was wrong, and so egregiously wrong it could have had an influence on the decision of the jury."

[...]

Dietz did not return phone calls for comment. In a prepared statement issued Thursday, he said he made an honest mistake in part because he had not anticipated answering questions about Law & Order.

"My spontaneous recall about particular shows is admittedly imperfect," Dietz said.

One of Puryear's Baylor colleagues, psychiatry professor Victor Scarano, said Dietz's gaffe is hard to understand given his reputation for thoroughness.

"He is usually very careful about what he does," Scarano said. "When we do our work, we usually are very scrupulous that what we have are the facts. We understand that we are going to be vulnerable to cross-examination, so we have to have our ducks in a row. How this happened, I don't know. Unfortunately, it will hurt him."

After the Yates case, Dietz was retained by Tyler prosecutors pursuing a capital murder conviction for Deanna Laney, charged with bludgeoning two of her children to death in 2003. Dietz surprised prosecutors by concluding that Laney, who said she was acting under orders from God, was "a textbook case" of insanity. Laney was found not guilty.

That shows he's not just a gun for hire, supporters say.

"Dietz is to my knowledge just as honest and ethical as he can be," said William Reid, a Texas forensic psychiatrist who, like Dietz, has served as president of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. "He has felt extremely badly about his error. I've talked to him personally about it and heard him speak to others."

Reid said he did not think the mistake ultimately will affect Dietz's credibility or his popularity as a witness.

"It was an accident on his part," Reid said. "He did give an off-the-cuff answer that there had been this episode. The person who took it to the next level and said (Yates) had seen it was the prosecutor."


Finally, Hotshot Casey notes that a reporter who knew Law & Order producer Dick Wolf was in the courtroom when Dietz was testifying. She was the one who verified that he'd erred, after making a call to Wolf. I disagree with Casey's statement that the phantom L&O episode would never have been figured out had she not been there. You can find L&O episode guides if you look, and I think sooner or later someone would have checked into it. No question, though, that we wouldn't be where we are now without that bit of serendipity to help.

UPDATE: Missed the Chron editorial calling for a plea bargain. Via Ginger.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 07, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack
Comments

Dr. Dietz was raked over the coals by Charles Gibson this morning on Good Morning America. Not much consolation as long as the legal definition of insanity and the mental health system in Texas remain unchanged.

Off the subject but potentially a big story: The Houston Chronicle looks into how the Republicans used House Bill 2292 reorganizing the HHS agencies to fatten their cronies' wallets.

http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/front/2974133

Posted by: citizen Able on January 7, 2005 1:17 PM

Gee, Dr. Dietz feels bad for giving false testimony in a death penalty case. It must be awful for him. Can't we all just get along?

You know, DA Chuck Rosenthal testified Tuesday to a Texas Senate commitee that his solution to the problem of false convictions was to increase penalties for aggravated perjury to punish harder people who gave false testimony. So where's the perjury charge? There won't be one. It's a "mistake," we're told, and Dietz has been officially forgiven.

Bottom line, this isn't much different from the crime lab problem (except I'll bet Dietz's offices are cleaner than a washateria) -- the prosecution's "expert" witnesses are mainly "expert" at telling the prosecution whatever it wants to hear: 'Oh, she's full of BS, she got that off TV.' The public, cynical from nightly if-it-bleeds-it-leads news coverage, assumes that's right. Problematic issues are routinely downplayed. Everybody can sleep at night, as Rosenthal put it Tuesday.

I don't think you're right that somebody automatically would have caught it. Nine times out of ten nobody pays attention to this stuff.

Posted by: Scott on January 7, 2005 1:46 PM

Scott,

Dr. Dietz did not perjure himself unless he actually knew that there was no such L&O episode. An honest mistake, even an egregious one, will not support an action for perjury.

Posted by: TP on January 7, 2005 2:51 PM

TP is of course correct. But if we cannot call Dr. Dietz a perjurer, can we at least say he is too careless and incompetent ever to be called as an expert witness again?

Posted by: Steve Bates on January 7, 2005 8:07 PM

I think the whole situation with andrea yates and what she did was horrible. I also think what juror leona baker said is also horrible. How can she say that yates is mentally ill but not insane. People do not understand depression or postpartum depression. It can lead you to do unspeakable things. If baker would have a psycotic episode she might have a different opinion. I had a brain tumor in 2002 that caused me to be severely depressed so I understand how irrational you can think when you are in that state. I can't imagine what a psychotic state would be like. I am not saying that what andrea yates did is excusable but I think it could have been preventable. Her doctors failed her. She should never have left the hospital when she did and I think her husband could have supported her a little more. It sounds like someone should have been with her all the time. What a tradgedy! I think she should stay in a mental institution where she can get the treatment she needs.

Posted by: laurie hahnlen on March 2, 2006 10:42 PM

The bottom line is Dietz lied and yes it could have swayed the jury. It sure adds to the idea of premeditation. He lied under oath. Are we just supposed to say oops and let it slide? no! I hope Andrea Yates goes to a mental hospital where she belongs and not prison. She is very sick. Why can't people understand that? Psychotic behavior is insane. The definition in Webster's for insane states not sane, mentally ill or deranged. So why are we are going against Webster's and saying insane isn't mentally ill? Let's face there is no clear cut answer but if you personally have been psychotic or known someone who has been, as I have then you might understand it a little better. Dietz was supposedly a prominent forensic psychiatrist but his credibility is now smeared. He shouldn't be a "star" witness in the future.

Posted by: laurie hahnlen on March 3, 2006 1:51 AM