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On to the defense in the Yates 2.0 trial

I’m a little surprised to realize that the prosecution has already rested its case against Andrea Yates in the retrial. I don’t remember it being this quick last time, and I’m not sure how it could be virtually the same evidence when they also presented testimony from a former cellmate of Yates’. On that score, I don’t think the prosecution landed a solid blow.

[Felicia] Doe told jurors that Yates initiated a conversation about her children’s deaths while the women shared a cell at the Harris County Jail’s psychiatric unit for several days in May 2002.

“She talked about the baby, Mary, being easy (to drown),” Doe said, as she took a deep breath and fought back tears. Noah, she said, “was crying really hard and throwing up and it made her mad. … Once he was in the water, it took a long time for him to stop moving.”

She said Yates described chasing Noah through the house and how the boy pulled on some window blinds, breaking them, during their struggle.

Yates’ attorneys tried to cast doubt on Doe’s testimony, noting that the children were clad in pajamas and play clothes, not their “Sunday best,” as Doe said Yates had told her.

The defense spotlighted Doe’s criminal and mental health history, and her capacity for truthfulness, during cross-examination.

“Did you tell (one) doctor you have a problem with being honest?” defense attorney Wendell Odom asked.

“Yes,” Doe said.

She said she once thought she suffered from bipolar disorder, but actually was just extremely depressed when she was placed in the County Jail’s psychiatric unit. Doe confirmed that she had been sent to prison after failing to comply with the terms of her probation for failure to stop and render aid, but said she has since been released.

As Odom grabbed a photo of the clothes the children wore when they died, Doe broke into tears.

“What does this appear to be to you?” Odom asked, holding the large picture in front of her.

Doe turned her head away and said, “All the boys’ clothes.” She refused to look at a photo of four of the children’s bodies, side by side on a bed, where Yates had placed them.

“Do they appear to be wearing their Sunday best to you?” Odom asked.

“No sir, they don’t,” Doe said, weeping.

My I-wasn’t-there impression of this is that she doesn’t seem too credible. Maybe you could say she was just embellishing a bit, but if you’re going to do that, what else might you add?

A bit of irony there, too, in bringing up mental health issues for Doe. Since Yates will probably not testify, that shouldn’t boomerang on the defense. I of course don’t know what the jury thought of her, and I have my own perspective on things, but I’m not impressed. We’ll see.

Doe has alleged that Yates described how to feign mental illness, but prosecutors did not ask about that claim.

That can’t be a factor in their eventual deliberations, but I wonder what the jury would have made of that. And I wonder what George Parnham would have made of it had it come up on direct.

Meanwhile, it looks like the defense got off to a compelling start.

Jurors in Yates’ capital murder trial listened closely this morning as [Dr. Melissa] Ferguson, the first psychiatrist to assess Yates in the jail’s Mental Health and Mental Retardation unit, recounted their discussions. Ferguson was the jail’s medical director of psychiatric services at the time.

[…]

Ferguson said that, after their first meeting, she concluded that Yates “had major depressive disorder, severe, with psychotic features with onset in (her) postpartum period.”

After lead defense attorney George Parnham asked if Ferguson considered Yates psychotic, she replied, “Yes, she was.”

[…]

Yates told her that “she was hearing a message from the TV while the children were watching cartoons,” Ferguson said.

“She said that the message had something to do with the children and herself. It was sometime in the weeks leading up to the drownings.”

In addition to telling Yates that she was a bad mother, they delivered messages to the children, Yates told Ferguson.

She said she could hear the cartoons telling the youngsters, “Don’t eat so much candy. Your mother is feeding you too much cereal.”

[…]

Jurors leaned forward in their seats and listened closely, even when Ferguson was defining psychiatric terms as psychosis and delusion, and clarifying issues such as whether someone could still believe a delusion is real, even after being told that it isn’t.

As we know, being mentally ill is not grounds for being acquitted on grounds of insanity. Insanity is a legal term, not a psychiatric one. The reason the prosecution mostly focused on things like how Yates called 911 and complied with instructions given to her by the police is because they have to prove she knew what she was doing. Since proving that for a specific time and incident is tough, the defense wants to show that she was so out of touch with reality as a general rule that you pretty much have to assume she was always out of it.

You all know my opinion on this, so I’ll just leave it at that. I expect there will be a lot more to the defense case, and I’ll be interested to see how the prosecution handles cross examination of their witnesses.

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3 Comments

  1. Dennis says:

    The criminal prosecution of Andrea Yates is one of the most vicious, barbaric acts I have ever witnessed on the part of a governmental entity. She was clearly psychotic. Even the prosecutors acknowledge that – what possible social benefit comes from punishing a mentally ill person for being sick? Why not then punish epileptics who have seizures while driving?

    Once again, I am so ashamed of the bloodlust that consumes so many Texans.

  2. Greg Morrow says:

    Isn’t it the case that this is just the “is she legally insane” part of the trial?

  3. Baby Snooks says:

    A decent district attorney wouldn’t have tried her in the first place. He would have allowed a plea of guilty by reason of insanity. And left it at that.

    That is a reflection on not only Chuck Rosenthal but on those who have voted for him.