June 23, 2006
The Yates 2.0 jury

I found this story about the voir dire for Andrea Yates retrial jury fascinating.

The seven women and eight men chosen for the new jury Thursday each had to agree they could set aside what they previously heard or learned about the case so they can give Yates a fair and impartial hearing.

"You'd have to be living in a cave not to have heard of this case," defense attorney Wendell Odom said outside the courthouse after the jury had been seated. "We've got a good mix of people - a diverse group with a lot of independent thinkers on it. And they're intelligent."


Attorneys asked the 120 panelists questions including their views of the insanity defense and their opinions of police officers and psychiatrists, as well as how they felt about not being able to assess Yates' punishment. A key difference for the new jury is that Yates automatically faces a life sentence if she is convicted of capital murder. The death penalty cannot be considered since jurors rejected that option in her last trial.

As we discussed before, the exclusion of the death penalty tends to make jury pools more amenable to the defense. Every jury is different, of course, and you never know what can happen. But it's a potential factor, so let's keep it in mind.

About one-fourth - 37 people - told [Judge Belinda] Hill they had already reached a conclusion on Yates' guilt or innocence because of pretrial publicity and suspected that would influence their verdict. Many of those on the panel openly discussed prejudices or viewpoints as attorneys tried to assess whether those would hinder their ability to be fair and impartial jurors.

"I just don't understand why a mother kills her babies when they're her blood," said one man, as Yates stared down at the table in front of her. "Maybe one - but five?"

"Mainly, it's that I don't understand - not why (it happened), but how could she?" a woman asked the attorneys.

Several panelists said they do not consider the insanity argument to be a credible and valid defense. One of them referred to it as a "defense of convenience." But others said they would consider any mother who killed her children to be insane, regardless of what evidence might be presented.


Defense attorneys said they found the jury panel's lively discussion refreshing.

"I can't remember a time when people discussed mental illness in voir dire," [defense attorney George] Parnham said. "Five years ago, we would've been laughed out of the courtroom."

I don't know if this will have any effect in the end on Yates, but it does look like the defense team is pretty optimistic going into the trial. We'll see.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 23, 2006 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

I suppose the cavemen from the Geico commercial hunted down and beat Wendell Odom senseless, right?

Posted by: Laurence Simon on June 23, 2006 1:45 PM

According to the Harris County Appraisal District, there are at least 7 Cave men living in Harris County

Posted by: Charles Hixon on June 23, 2006 4:33 PM

And of those seven, how many are on Commissioner's Court or City Council?

Posted by: Dennis on June 24, 2006 6:21 AM

Very interesting indeed! With an Assistant DA in the family, we have discussed this case often and how much the process, not just voir dire, because of the current popularity of law dramas on TV now. Many people watch CSI thinking if that technology is available and you don't have it, the person must be innocent. It seems to be irrelevant that most of it is experimental, expensive or both. Just enough information to be dangerous, no?

Posted by: Michelle on June 24, 2006 3:27 PM