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March 19th, 2006:

As the Yates retrial is set to start

Couple of worthwhile articles on the imminent Andrea Yates retrial in the Chron today. First, on why the insanity defense is both a terribly blunt instrument as well as a crapshoot.

Between 2001 and 2004, four Texas women became famous — notorious, actually — for the deaths they inflicted on their children. Two opted for drowning, one grabbed a knife and the other used a heavy rock.

But their choice of method was less significant than the method in their madness. All were convinced they were doing right by their children, according to their attorneys. So intense was their disturbed mental state that it was capable of overpowering the strongest, most basic human instinct.

In the aftermath of their horrific acts, the most pertinent question was not the most obvious one. Why they did it was not really answerable except in the vaguest of ways: They’re insane. Of greater urgency was the one thrown in the lap of the legal system: What to do with them?

In each case, prosecutors offered the same response: Try them, convict them, send them to prison — save for the case of Andrea Yates, where they chose the extreme option of attempting to have her executed. Even a Harris County jury would not agree to that, convicting her of capital murder and giving her a life sentence for drowning her children in the bathtub of their Clear Lake home.


Although they won a conviction in the Yates case, prosecutors have had less luck with the others. Deanna Laney, who bludgeoned two sons to death outside of their Tyler home in 2003, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Lisa Diaz of Plano, who drowned her two daughters later that year, received the same verdict. Last month, Dena Schlosser’s trial ended in a hung jury, with 11 voting for acquittal. Prosecutors intend to retry Schlosser, also from Plano, who cut off her infant daughter’s arms in 2004.

“The fact that you have different results in these cases is itself a problem,” said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who has written about the insanity defense. “I’ve yet to meet anyone who seriously argues Andrea Yates was not insane. But by sticking to a rigid standard of only knowing right and wrong, you exclude the most common forms of insanity: people responding to evil voices.”

Also, the enigma of Rusty Yates. I don’t know the man, but I feel about him more or less as his friend Bob Holmes does.

Even after [Rusty] divorced [Andrea] last year, he continued a campaign to get her out of prison and into treatment. But some say that kind of support was hard to see before the children’s deaths.

“You’ve got a pre-June 20th Rusty and a post-June 20th Rusty,” said Bob Holmes, who met Yates in 1989, when the couple was dating.

Holmes insists that Rusty Yates, vilified on Web sites and radio and TV talk shows, “isn’t a monster.”

But Holmes is counted among those who knew the couple and who question the way he dealt with his wife’s mental illness, which seemed to materialize in their marriage after the birth of their fourth child, Luke.

“Did he lose his children? Yes. Do I feel bad for him? Absolutely,” said Holmes, who along with his wife, Debbie, met then-Andrea Kennedy 20 years ago. “But he’s the one person who could have stopped it.”

As I recall (not mentioned in this story), it was at Rusty’s insistence that Andrea be taken off the meds that she was on for her illness after Luke’s birth so she could get pregnant again. If there’s one single thing that Yates should be faulted for, that’s it.

Meet the new Mrs. Yates. From the picture, she’s an attractive woman. Hope she knows what she’s getting into.

Hey, Dwight! Will anyone be liveblogging the Yates trial as they’ve been the Lay/Skilling trial? I think that would be very informative if so. Just my opinion.

From the “Wish I’d said that” files

Eye on Williamson brings the best quote I’ve heard this week, from the RSS feed for the subscription-only Texas Weekly:

While former Comptroller John Sharp and the rest of Gov. Rick Perry’s tax reform commission works on proposed revisions to the state’s business taxes, they’re starting to hear more noise from lawmakers and lobbyists. That’s not unusual with a special session approaching, but it’s dangerous for tax bills: An unprotected tax bill lasts about as long as free pot at a rock concert and isn’t nearly as much fun.

Dude. Rock on, dude.

Seriously, when I start to see articles in which Rick Perry steadfastly defends the TTRC’s business tax plan against each member of the self-interested hordes, then I’ll believe there’s a chance it could happen. Until then, I expect more of what we’ve already seen, spiced up with a little extra bitterness from the primary campaigns.

Et tu, Bob?

At this point, I don’t know if the rumors about Bob Gammage throwing his support to Carole Keeton Strayhorn will turn out to be true or not. But I do know this: If that does happen, then those obituaries I referred to will all report that Tony Sanchez held down the body of the state Democratic Party while Bob Gammage repeatedly whacked it with a baseball bat. Choose your next move carefully, Bob, that’s all I’m going to say for now.