Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

Verdict

For closing statements, Kaylynn Williford asked the jury to be silent for three minutes so they could experience the amount of time each child had endured the drowning process before dying.   It was a dramatic maneuver and Parnham could do nothing to prevent it.  He wrapped up his case by emphasizing the points the psychiatrists had made.  It was clear that he cared very much what might happen to the woman in his charge.

The trial had lasted three weeks, but it took the jury less than three hours on March 12, 2002, to return a verdict of guilty.   Rusty buried his face in his hands and moaned.  Andrea looked back at her brother Brian and tried to smile, but instead she began to cry and turned away to walk off with the prison guard.

"The way the case unfolded," said Owmby.   "I was confident that the jury would find her guilty and reject the insanity defense."  Williford, said, "I think the jury focused on the children."

The nation now debated whether Andrea Yates should be sentenced to death.   Many felt the verdict was unfair and hoped the jury would do what they considered the right thing and at least give her only life in prison.  Many others felt that a jury that had been quick to find her guilty might show no such compassion.  Some raised the issue that the jury might have made a different decision had they understood that an NGRI verdict would have kept Andrea institutionalized and would have ensured mental health treatment.  Why weren't they allowed to have that information?

Then the defense attorneys, says Roche, discovered a significant flaw in Park Dietz's testimony.   The television episode that he claimed had inspired Andrea and which prosecutors had used to show premeditation had never aired.  Dietz sent a letter admitting to his error and to the fact that Andrea had never mentioned the show to him.

He also did post-trial interviews in which he said that he disagreed with the way the state of Texas worded the insanity plea.  He believed that people as sick as Andrea Yates should be handled differently than other criminals were. 

In light of all this, Parnham and Odom asked for a mistrial.   Judge Hill said no.

During the penalty phase that spring, the same jury quickly returned a sentence of life in prison (in less than forty minutes) rather than death, and Andrea Yates received this news with little emotion.   She would be eligible for parole in 2041, when she was 77.  She was sent   to Mountain View Unit, a state psychiatric prison in eastern Texas.

Rusty announced that his family had been mishandled by the mental health system.   He did not see that he had been adequately warned and he insisted that Andrea had not been adequately treated.  He decided to set up a Web site to inform people about mental illness and to post pictures and facts about his children.

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