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Yates decision Monday

State District Judge Belinda Hill will rule on Monday whether or not Andrea Yates should be tried again for murder or if the false testimony presented by prosecution witness Park Dietz creates a double jeopardy situation.

Dietz testified Friday he immediately notified prosecutors of his mistake. They, in turn, said they notified Yates’ attorneys. Yates’ attorneys, prosecutors testified Friday, seemed satisfied by alerting jurors of the mistake and did not take up Dietz’s offer to return to Houston at his own expense.

Yates’ attorneys have argued that subjecting her to another trial would amount to double jeopardy. If the judge disagrees and Yates chooses to appeal that finding, her trial could be delayed for up to a year, said Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry.

But if Hill also declares the defense’s double jeopardy claim to be frivolous, Yates’ trial could proceed as scheduled, Curry said.

“Obviously, we’re taking this very seriously,” Curry said after Friday’s hearing. “When Dr. Dietz testified about this, we believed he knew what he was talking about. The court of appeals clearly found there was no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.”

My gut says that Judge Hill will not grant the defense motion. Dietz’s phony testimony was the grounds for overturning the guilty verdict from the first trial. In theory at least, the appeals court could have taken the extra step that the defense is now requesting, as Curry notes. I don’t think she’ll rule that it’s frivolous, though, so we may be in for a long wait.

Those who testified Friday included Dietz; Tomball area resident Shauna Thornton, who alerted the Harris County District Attorney’s Office of Dietz’s mistaken testimony; and the Harris County prosecutors assigned to the Yates case, Joe Owmby and Kaylynn Williford.

Thornton said she first sent an e-mail to the district attorney’s office one week after the Yates children died to alert prosecutors the A&E network had aired a rerun of L.A. Law that concerned a woman found not guilty of killing her child by using a “postpartum psychosis” defense. The program, Thornton said, aired shortly before the children’s deaths.

Prosecutors followed up by talking to Thornton, but said they did not give her message much weight because there was no way to prove that Yates had actually watched the TV program. They said they were busy chasing down numerous other leads.

Owmby said he mistakenly referred to the TV program as Law & Order when he briefly discussed the matter with Dietz, asking the psychiatrist to check if such an episode existed.

“I really had no interest in the matter except to put it to rest and get it out of the way,” Owmby testified Friday.

When Dietz testified at Yates’ first trial in March 2002, he said Law & Order had aired an episode about a case with circumstances similar to the Yates children’s deaths. Owmby and Williford both said Friday they had no reason to doubt Dietz’s testimony at the time, although they were surprised by it.

Thornton said she sent another e-mail to the district attorney’s office after seeing media coverage of Dietz’s testimony to alert them of the mistake.

“Actually, we shouted at the TV, ‘The name of the show is L.A. Law, not Law & Order,’ ” she recalled Friday.

Owmby said Friday if he had known Dietz’s testimony was incorrect, he would have spoken up immediately.

I dunno. This certainly sounds less than diligent on the part of the DA’s office, but not quite malicious. I think that the remedy already granted was sufficient. But we’ll see.

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  1. David in NY says:

    One question. Did the “Law and Order” stuff come up on direct examination or on cross? If it came up on direct, I am skeptical of what the prosecutors say. A lawyer ought not be surprised by what his own witness says on direct examination, which he has had the opportunity to prepare in detail (and which, in this case, he apparently provoked).

    On the other hand, if it came up on cross, the prosecutor might have no clue.

    The transcript should show whether the prosecutors were angling to bring this out on direct. If they were, they almost certainly knew what they were after, and they damned well should have known it was a lie. Got an excerpt from the transcript, Charles?

  2. David – Don’t know about a transcript, but looking through my own archives here, it appears this came up on direct.

  3. David in NY says:

    Actually, looks like it came up on cross-exam and the prosecution ran with it. Your prior account indicates that Parnham (who would have been engaging in cross-examination) introduced the question of Law and Order and that Dietz then told his tale. (Unless the story only came out on re-direct by the prosecutor after Parnham finished.) So maybe the prosecutor didn’t initially expect the testimony. (Or, cynically, maybe he’d decided it was crap and told Dietz not to say it, but once it was out, it was too good not to use.) At least it’s not something the prosecutor was clearly intending to use all along.