Andrea Yates’ Murder Conviction Overturned

Andrea Yates’ Murder Conviction Overturned (CNN)

A Texas appeals court in Houston Thursday reversed the capital murder convictions of Andrea Yates, the woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub, citing the false testimony of a prosecution witness. According to a report from The Associated Press, Yates’ lawyers argued last month before a three-judge panel of the First Court of Appeals in Houston that psychiatrist Park Dietz was wrong when he said he consulted on an episode of the TV show “Law and Order” involving a woman found innocent by reason of insanity for drowning her children. After Yates was convicted, attorneys in the case and jurors learned no such episode existed, the AP reported.

Jurors in 2002 sentenced Yates to life in prison in the 2001 deaths of three of her children. She was not tried in the deaths of the other two.

Yates told authorities that Satan told her to kill the children. Despite a documented history of mental illness, a jury rejected her plea of innocent by reason of insanity and convicted her of murder in 2002. She was sentenced to life in prison but will be eligible for parole in 40 years.

Amazing. It’s unclear to me how his consulting work for a television program–or lack of same–is a material fact in this case. Dietz was a defense witness. It was their duty to check the guy’s credentials.

Correction: I initially read that Dietz was a prosecution witness but then got confused because it would seem that he was making the defense’s point. Given that the fact that Yates killed her children was never in dispute, only her mental competence, the prosecution certainly had a duty to put forth the most credible psychiatrist they could find. Why they didn’t check his claims on this issue is beyond me.

Update (1203): Michelle Malkin has more info on the illustrious Dr. Dietz. He’s apparently a regular Forest Gump.

Update (1426): Jeff Goldstein reprises his arguments for why Yates should never have been found guilty in the first place. It’s worth a read of a decidely minority viewpoint.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Popular Culture
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. David Harris says:

    The quotation from the story you posted says he was a witness for the prosecution. You say he was a witness for the defense. I didn’t follow this case, so I don’t know which is true. If he was a defense witness, are there even legal grounds to appeal based on the testimony of your own witness? And if he was a prosecution witness, why would the prosecution call someone who claimed to have consulted on a show that depicted a similar criminal being found not guilty?

  2. mariage says:

    Yates told authorities that Satan told her to kill the children. Despite a documented history of mental illness, a jury rejected her plea of innocent by reason of insanity and convicted her of murder in 2002. She was sentenced to life in prison but will be eligible for parole in 40 years.

    Well done !!

  3. Ravi says:

    From what I understood, the “Law and Order” tangent was an important part of the discussion about whether she was sane or not. I thought Dietz’s point was that she had patterned her crime after a “Law and Order” episode in order to *look* insane even though she wasn’t. When it turned out that the episode he cited didn’t exist… I honestly don’t know whether Andrea Yates is sane or not, but I do know the prosecution isn’t allowed to benefit from one of their witnesses lying.