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Yates conviction overturned

Andrea Yates’ conviction has been thrown out by the Texas First Court of Appeals.

The three-member appeals court granted Yates’ motion to have her conviction reversed because the state’s expert psychiatric witness testified that Yates had patterned her actions after a Law & Order television episode that never existed. In ordering a new trial, the appellate court said the trial judge erred in not granting a mistrial once it was learned that testimony of Dr. Park Dietz was false.

Prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling, but Yates’ family and attorney were jubilant this morning.

“It’s unbelievable,” defense attorney George Parnham said. “I’m stunned, unbelievably happy.”

[…]

During her 2002 trial in the Houston courtroom of State District Judge Belinda Hill, Yates’ attorneys argued she was unable to discern that difference when she filled up the family’s bathtub and drowned her children one by one, but the Harris County jury deliberated just 3-1/2 hours before convicting her of drowning three of her children. She was not tried in the deaths of her other two children.

Yates’ attorneys vowed at the trial’s end that they would appeal the case because of the testimony of Dietz, who told the jury he had served as a consultant on an episode of the television drama Law & Order in which a woman drowned her children in the bathtub and was judged insane. He testified the show aired shortly before Yates drowned her own children.

Prosecutors referred to Dietz’s testimony in his closing arguments of the trial’s guilt or innocence phase, noting that Yates regularly watched the show and that she had alluded to finding “a way out” when Dietz interviewed her in the Harris County Jail after the drownings.

But right after Yates’ conviction, defense attorneys discovered no such episode was produced. As a result, both sides agreed to tell jurors who’d moved on to consider Yates’ punishment that Dietz had erred in his testimony and to disregard that portion of his account.

Dietz later said he had confused the show with others and wrote a letter to prosecutors, saying, “I do not believe that watching Law & Order played any causal role in Mrs. Yates’ drowning of her children.”

[…]

Writing for the appeals court, Justice Sam Nuchia agreed the state hadn’t knowingly used perjured testimony but expressed concern that the jury could have been prejudiced when weighing Yates’ guilt.

“We conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that Dr. Dietz’s false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury,” the court ruled. “We further conclude that Dr. Dietz’s false testimony affected the substantial rights of appellant.”

That’s exactly right. The prosecution cannot be allowed to gain from the error of its expert witness. Honest mistake it may have been, but it still damaged the defense, and in a capital murder trial especially, that’s too big a burden. Calling a do-over is the only result that speaks to justice. Maybe this time around, the prosecution will agree that what Andrea Yates needs is treatment, not punishment.

Via Ginger, who sums it all up: “For once, a criminal appeal in Texas has shocked me the right way.”

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4 Comments

  1. julia says:

    Oh, hallelujah.

    I just hope this doesn’t interfere with Mr. Yates’ divorce plans.

  2. William Hughes says:

    Unfortunately, the court appears to have ignored the remaining 18 points of appeal. Also, the definition of “legally insane” is so narrow in most states that the appeal will probably not make a difference, since trials courts enforce law, not interpret it.

    This one’s not over by a longshot, folks.

  3. Ron says:

    I sure wish I could in touch with her attorney. Wanted to for years. And here it is again. That drug she had taken, Wellbutren(spelling?)I had one terrible encounter with it before. Given to me in a hospital to relieve my anxiety for Smoking! Was not in there for that but thanks to that anxiety relief pills,I ripped all the IV’s in my arm out, walked out of the hospital across 4 heavily lanes of traffic, bought a pack of cigarettes, called my wife to pick me up, and 5 hours later, FIVE HOURS LATER, came to my senses sitting on my deck at home!!!!!! Did not know how I got there and especailly what I was doing there, since I was supposed to be in the hospital. Even had numerous visitors in the hospital and did not remember it! I could have killed someone and would never known what I had done.
    I could not return to that hospital, went to a military one, I wanted a second opinion, and took all the meds with me. He ask me if I had some sort of mental disorder!!! I was shocked at what I had been prescribed!!!!!
    For the record: I HAD FROST BITE TO 3 OF MY FINGERS! But that 5 hours + with the hospital stay, is forever gone. Maybe that ladies”s too. Wish someone one would pass this on to that lawyer of hers. I sure do not know how.
    Although she did it, if she was in the state I was, she sure as hell does not remember it. I am living proof to my wife and myself!
    My wife saw / herd that name on TV when that trial was going on and she went to the medicine cabinet, and exclaimed, “That Is What Thet Lady Was Prescribed!”

  4. Amy Studebaker says:

    I am a junior at Pontiac Township High School and I am doing a research paper on Andrea Yates. For my paper i need an interview source and I was wondering if you could give me someone to interview.

    Sincerely,
    Amy Studebaker