HOUSTON – Jurors in the Andrea Yates child-killing case will be allowed to see more than two dozen photos taken at the crime scene, a judge ruled Wednesday.
State District Judge Belinda Hill admitted 29 of the photos after the state agreed to withdraw 10 others. Hill said the photos' relevance outweighed any prejudice they might cause the jury.
Defense attorneys had sought to block prosecutors from using any of 39 photos taken at the home where Yates' five children were drowned last June.
One of the photos showed 7-year-old Noah Yates floating face down in the bathtub with his arms outstretched, submerged beneath the water. Others detailed bruising on the children and how the bodies of Noah's four younger siblings — John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months — were laid out on a bed in the back bedroom.
Yates, 37, could face the death penalty. She has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.
On Tuesday, Yates' mother-in-law, Dora Yates, testified that six weeks before she drowned the children, Andrea Yates filled the bathtub with water unexpectedly one day and said she "might need it."
Dora Yates, the first of the defendant's relatives to take the stand, said Andrea Yates — her "very precious daughter-in-law" — was catatonic and "not herself" for several months before the children were killed.
She said she left her home in Hermitage, Tenn., last April to visit her son's family in Houston for a week. But she ended up staying several months, she said, because Andrea was ill and needed help with the children.
Dora Yates told of a day last May when she found her daughter-in-law in the bathroom with a tub full of water. "I might need it," she quoted Andrea Yates as saying.
Defense attorneys suggested during opening statements Monday that Yates' delusions had caused her to fear the family's water supply might be interrupted.
Prosecutors say Andrea Yates suffered from a mental illness but knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the drownings.
Dora Yates testified that she doubted her daughter-in-law knew right from wrong, "not in the state she was in," because she stared into space for hours, and even scratched her head until she had bald spots. She said Andrea had grown worse after her father's death last March, then appeared somewhat better after a brief stay at a mental hospital last spring.
Several police officers have testified that Andrea Yates answered their questions on June 20, looked directly at them and read and signed a consent form for police to search the house.
Houston police Sgt. David Svahn testified Tuesday that Yates' husband, Russell, ran up to the house screaming that day after his wife called him at work and told him to come home.
Svahn said he had the grim task of informing Yates that his children were dead.
"At that point he fell to the ground and began hitting his hand on the ground," Svahn said. The father then picked up a plastic chair from the yard and threw it, the officer said.
"His wife told him she had hurt all five of the kids and that she finally did it," Svahn said.
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Joe Owmby asked Dora Yates why she refused to talk with his office or expert witnesses in helping to determine whether Andrea Yates was sane at the time of the drownings.
"The prosecution is seeking the death penalty against my daughter-in-law, and I firmly think that is wrong," she said.
If Yates is found innocent by reason of insanity, a hearing will be held at least 30 days later, when she will either be released or involuntarily committed.
If jurors convict her, they must determine if she poses a future danger to society and if there is enough mitigating evidence to sentence her to life in prison rather than death.