HOUSTON – The defense rested its case Monday in the murder trial of Andrea Yates, clearing the way for closing arguments by attorneys and then deliberations by a jury that must decide if the Houston mother was insane last year when she drowned her five children in their own bathtub.
State District Judge Belinda Hill set closing statements by lawyers for Tuesday morning. The jury could get the case by midday.
During a taped interview played for jurors Monday, Yates told a psychiatrist that drowning her children "was a bad choice" and didn't make sense five months after she did it.
"I shouldn't have done it," Yates told Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the state to evaluate her.
Dr. Lucy Puryear, called as a rebuttal witness to Dietz as testimony entered its fourth week, said Yates' comments were a retrospective look on her actions when she talked with Dietz Nov. 7.
Puryear said Yates, her mind fogged by psychosis, did not know her actions were wrong until after she called police to her home June 20.
"As she drowned each one of the children, she thought she was doing the right thing," Puryear testified, adding that Yates was trying to send them to heaven. "She started to think it was wrong when she called the police and the whole process got started. Up until then, she thought it was right."
Puryear, the trial's final witness, said under cross-examination she didn't know Yates watched the television series "Law and Order," which aired an episode before June 20 about a woman who drowned her children and was later found innocent by reason of insanity.
Prosecutor Joe Owmby also asked Puryear to answer a hypothetical question about someone who wants to blow up a bank or women's clinic because he believes those businesses are evil.
There's a difference between having a belief and being psychotic and being delusional, Puryear said.
"You don't understand mental illness," she said. "Psychosis is something that's so real (to Yates) ... and it's crazy to everybody else."
During the interview with Dietz, Yates tells him she felt anxious, but otherwise had no emotion as she drowned her five children.
"I knew I had to call the police," Yates tearfully said. "I still felt I had to do it. ... I wasn't feeling much of anything at all."
Yates told Dietz she wasn't thinking about Satan at the time of the killings but was praying her four sons would go to heaven. She also said she wasn't concerned about 6-month-old Mary, because "she was the most innocent of all of them."
In another portion of the Dietz interview played for jurors, the psychiatrist asked Yates if she thought Satan still lived within her.
"No, he left when I committed my crime," Yates said. "He destroys then he leaves."
"Doesn't he take your soul?" Dietz asked.
"When I die," Yates responded.
Yates, 37, who has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, faces life in prison or the death penalty if convicted in the drownings of 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and infant Mary. Charges later could be filed in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.
If jurors decide she was insane at the time of the killings, the court will have to wait at least 30 days before deciding whether she should be committed to a mental hospital or go free.
Prosecutors rested their case Saturday.
Whether Yates knew her actions were wrong as she drowned her five children in the bathtub last summer will be the main issue jurors must decide when they begin deliberating, likely later this week.
Neither the state nor the defense is contesting she suffered from a severe mental disease or that she killed her five children.
Psychiatrists called by both sides as expert witnesses during the trial, which began testimony Feb. 18, have said Yates suffered from schizophrenia, a severe mental disease. What the witnesses disagreed on, however, is whether Yates could appreciate it was wrong for her to kill her children.
In Texas, a defendant is presumed sane. To prove insanity, defense attorneys must convince jurors Yates suffered from a severe mental disease or defect which prevented her from knowing her actions were wrong.