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Dietz blames DA for screwup

The plot thickens.

The psychiatrist whose erroneous testimony led an appeals court to overturn Andrea Yates’ conviction for drowning her children said Friday that he got the flawed information from Harris County prosecutors.

Park Dietz, of California, said it was “an honest mistake” when he wrongly told jurors that Yates might have been inspired by an episode of the TV series Law & Order. He described an episode about a woman who drowned her children and was found innocent by reason of insanity.

After jurors convicted Yates of capital murder, it was learned that no such episode existed. The 1st Texas Court of Appeals concluded Thursday that Dietz’s testimony rendered the trial unfair.

Dietz said Friday that he had been confused because prosecutors told him there was a Law & Order episode with that plot.

“I put that in my notes and must have remembered those notes,” he said in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America program.


Prosecutors have repeatedly said they did not know Dietz’s testimony was incorrect until later, after Yates was convicted but before jurors decided her sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Joe Owmby, who tried Yates’ capital murder case, said the discussion of the TV show was brief. Owmby told the Associated Press on Friday that, before the trial began, he asked Dietz whether such a Law & Order episode had ever aired and Dietz said he would look into it.

Dietz did not follow up on the conversation and the subject never surfaced again, Owmby said.

“So, in a way, I’m not disputing the question came up because of something we asked him,” he said. “But we got no response, and it wasn’t important to the development of our case.

“But I think it’s a little leap to say we caused this to happen,” Owmby said.

I dont know if the question of screwup ownership really matters, but I do know that it’s all the more reason why the appeals court was right to throw out the conviction. The prosecution cannot profit from this kind of mistake, however it originates.

The remark about the TV show apparently can be traced back to an e-mail sent to the District Attorney’s Office from a Houston-area schoolteacher shortly after Yates’ arrest.

The teacher said that, just days before the slayings, she had seen a rerun of an episode from the 1980s legal drama L.A. Law, in which a woman drowned her children and was found innocent by reason of insanity.

After news reports of Yates’ arrest, the teacher, who asked not to be identified, e-mailed the District Attorney’s Office.

She later received a call from Owmby, said her attorney, Philip Hilder.

Owmby has previously declined to comment on the e-mail. He could not be reached for comment Friday.

I suppose someone needs to ask the obvious question here: Are we sure such an episode of L.A. Law really existed? I don’t remember it, but maybe it was from the later seasons when the show really sucked. Here’s an episode guide if you’ve got a little too much time on their hands.

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One Comment

  1. William Hughes says:

    I don’t recall any episode similar to that from LA Law, but then again, I stopped watching during the last three seasons.

    Considering that LA Law is not being rerun on any cable network at this time (or for the last two or three years, but I could be wrong about that), the thought that someone would be inspired by something like that is a leap of faith, at best.

    Regardless, I still consider Andrea Yates responsible for what she did (and that’s speaking as a person that has dealt with mental illness all of my life, folks), but the liability must be mitigated by the circumstances of her illness.

    The problem with being declared “legally insane” is that a person can be released from the hospital within six months (NY State law) and never actually be in prison. This leads, of course, to the perception that “the guilty must be punished”, and since a person is mentally competent to understand the charges against him/her, he/she must be viewed as a normal, rational human being.