Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?

New Chapter - A New Trial?

Yates could still be tried in the deaths of two of her children, since she was only convicted in the deaths of three.  However, a new trial, whether it be for the same deaths again or for those for which she has not yet been tried, may be a crap shoot for either side, and an expensive one at that.  The defense has not only learned what did not work three years ago, but they also have access to another high-profile Texas case in which a mother was acquitted by reason of insanity for killing her children at the instigation of supernatural commands. 

Deanna Laney
Deanna Laney
Deanna Laney, also evaluated by Park Dietz, stoned her three sons in 2003, two of whom died, because she believed God wanted her to.  Dietz found her to be unaware of what she was doing, although she had nowhere near the history of mental illness that Yates had.   "She struggled over whether to obey God or to selfishly keep her children," Dietz had testified.  His impression was that she had felt she had no choice.  Experts scratched their heads over why God's command made a woman insane but the Devil's command did not - especially after Dietz gave an interview to a Virginia newspaper in which he stated that Yates was indeed mentally ill.

Andrea Yates
Andrea Yates
While Yates did commit a horrendous crime when she drowned all five of her children, the nation has heard a great deal more since then about both post-partum psychosis and about the problems with the insanity defense.  A new jury made up of people possibly exposed to all this information could be quite a different story.

Although Harris County prosecutors say they will appeal the court's decision, legal speculation indicates, according to Newsweek, that it's likely to be settled with Yates reassigned to a private mental institution rather than a prison.  There she can be properly evaluated.  Her husband, Rusty, filed for divorce in July 2004, but hopes the criminal charges will be dropped.  Those who currently care for Yates indicate that she is still considered mentally unstable, and during the fall of 2004, when she was overcome with the horror of what she had done, she had tried to kill herself by refusing to eat, and was hospitalized.  A settlement, rather than a trial, may well be in her best interests.

Yet the legal issue remains.  While friends and associates of Dietz insist on his integrity and claim that he would not knowingly make a misstatement, one can only wonder why an expert who did not research the information beforehand would testify to it from vague recall.  Or why the DA's office did not bother to check its accuracy.  Yates's life hung in the balance.  She might well have been given the death penalty.  Fortunately her attorney ensured that the system worked appropriately.

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