June 19, 2006
Yates jury selection

Jury selection for the Andrea Yates trial 2.0 begins tomorrow.

The first half of a 120-person panel will begin answering questionnaires intended to help attorneys gauge who can fairly and impartially decide whether Yates knew right from wrong when she killed her children in their Clear Lake-area home.

The remaining panelists will go through the process Wednesday, with jury selection to begin the following day. The trial, which is expected to last about a month, will begin June 26.


Yates has once again pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Perhaps the biggest difference this time is that jurors will not be able to consider the death penalty if they convict her, since she was sentenced to life in prison in her first trial.

As a result, this jury will be chosen much more quickly than the first. And Yates could benefit by ending up with a more liberal jury, since death-penalty opponents will not automatically be excluded, one consultant said.

"That's going to change the dynamics of the jury pool pretty dramatically," said Houston jury consultant Ellen Finlay. "All those people who might be more moderate jurors and more concerned with her mental issues are not likely to be disqualified this time, which could mean a better jury panel for her."

The passage of time since the drownings likely will help Yates, another consultant said.

"It may be she's convicted again by another jury, even though the shock has worn off. But I think the public will be much more understanding if she is not convicted than they would have been in the first trial," said Dr. Richard Waites, a board-certified trial lawyer and chief trial psychologist for The Advocates, a jury consultant service.

Not having a so-called "death-qualified jury" is indeed a big deal, as it makes Yates more likely to be acquitted on insanity grounds. No guarantees, of course, but if Vegas were running a line you'd get shorter odds on the defense this time around.

I'm not sure if the passage of time will matter all that much. I do think the prediction that an acquittal will stir less outrage now is accurate, though.

The new trial - again in the court of state District Judge Belinda Hill - will follow a course similar to that of the first one, attorneys predict. Many of the same witnesses are expected to testify, and much of the same evidence will be presented.

However, there could be some new elements. One is the addition of Dr. Michael Welner, the state's new mental health expert, who evaluated Yates during a two-day period last month at Rusk State Hospital, where she has been confined while awaiting her new trial.

Welner, a well-known forensic psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine, is founder and chairman of The Forensic Panel, which touts itself as the country's first peer-reviewed forensic practice. Prosecutors said they have not yet received his findings.

And then, there is Yates' mail. Prosecutors have obtained copies of more than 200 letters she wrote while in custody, but they have not revealed the contents. The letters could be introduced as new evidence.

There's still a motion by the defense to preclude Dr. Welner's testimony. I tend to think the state will prevail on that, but it's still an open issue. As for the letters, who knows? I feel pretty confident in saying that whatever they say, there will be more than one way to interpret them.

Prosecutors also have a statement from a former cellmate who stepped forward last year to report what she said was Yates' chilling account of the drownings during a conversation in 2002.

Felicia Doe, 28, of Alvin, who has been subpoenaed to testify, said Yates described locking the doors of her home before the drownings so nobody could get inside or out.

This strikes me as a high-risk gambit by the DA. If Ms. Doe is a credible witness, this could be very damaging to the defense. If not, the prosecution will look bad, even vindictive. No way to know until she takes the stand. It all begins next week, so stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 19, 2006 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

"If not, the prosecution will look bad, even vindictive."

The prosecution already looks vindictive. The first trial they used an "expert" who got his television shows mixed up. The second trial they are using a former cellmate. Just instills confidence in the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

They paid Park Dietz $100,000 for his testimony. You have to wonder how much they have paid Ms. Doe for hers. Maybe they just gave her some "get out of jail free" cards.

Posted by: Baby Snooks on June 19, 2006 5:28 PM

IMO, Yates is a poster child for the insanity defense. If there's any reason to have it on the books, it's for people like her, IMO.

Her situation was way different as far as I can tell from, say, Susan Smith, whose actions looked clearly planned and premeditated.

Posted by: Tim on June 19, 2006 7:25 PM