HOUSTON – A jury of eight women and four men found Andrea Pia Yates, the Houston mom who admitted to drowning her five children, guilty of capital murder Tuesday after deliberating for less than four hours.
State District Judge Belinda Hill, who read the verdict, initially said jurors would begin hearing testimony Wednesday in the punishment phase of the case, then gave lawyers an additional day to prepare. Court was reset for Thursday morning.
Yates, 37, who pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to two capital murder charges, faces life in prison or the death penalty for the drownings of 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary. Charges later could be filed in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.
The jury had heard testimony from 38 witnesses over more than three weeks in reaching its guilty verdict.
There was no apparent reaction from Yates, who stood between her attorneys as the verdict was read. The arm of one of them was around her.
Yates' husband, Russell, muttered: "Oh, God," as Hill read the verdict. Then he buried his head in his clasped hands and remained seated silently even as the spectators stood while the jury exited.
Dora Yates wrapped her right arm around her son and held him. Russell Yates' brother Randy, sitting on the other side of their mother, shook his head after the verdict was read.
Defense psychiatric expert Lucy Puryear hugged Jutta Kennedy, Andrea Yates' mother, as they left the courtroom. Some Yates relatives cried.
Prosecutors left the courthouse without comment.
"I'm not critiquing or criticizing the verdict," George Parnham, one of Yates' lawyers, said. "But it seems to me we are still back in the days of the Salem witch trials."
He described Andrea Yates as "very upset" and said her reaction to the verdict was "not good, as you can imagine."
"I thought we laid out a strong case," he said. "As you can imagine, it's devastating and extremely disappointing."
Late Tuesday night, Russell Yates, his mother and brother were among about a dozen people who held purple candles or signs supporting Andrea Yates at a vigil outside the Harris County Courthouse.
"This is for Andrea. We want to show that we love and respect her," Dora Yates said. "We want everyone to know this has been a travesty of justice."
Russell Yates remained mostly silent, saying only that his wife's defense attorney was a good man and that he hoped during the sentencing phase to be able to give a victim impact statement, where a relative of the victim may get to address the convicted killer.
"I hope I get to talk to Andrea," he said. "I really want to. It's not going to be typical."
Both the state and the defense agreed Yates suffered from a severe mental disease and that she killed her five children last June 20 by holding them under water in their own bathtub until they stopped breathing.
What expert witnesses during the trial disagreed on, however, was whether Yates knew killing her children was wrong.
In Texas, a defendant is presumed sane. To prove insanity, defense attorneys had to convince jurors Yates suffered from a severe mental disease or defect, specifically postpartum depression with severe psychosis, which prevented her from knowing her actions were wrong.
"If drowning five children by a loving mother isn't a gross psychosis, there isn't any such thing as gross psychosis," defense lawyer Wendell Odom said in his closing arguments to the jury earlier Tuesday.
In the closing arguments, defense attorneys said Yates loved her children so much she killed them.
"We can't permit objective logic to be imposed on the actions of Andrea Yates," Parnham said. "She was so psychotic on June 20 that she absolutely believed what she was doing was the right thing to do."
Defense expert Phillip Resnick, among witnesses during more than three weeks of testimony, said while Yates knew drowning her children was illegal, in her psychotic delusional mind she thought it was the only way to save her children from eternal damnation.
Resnick said Yates thought Satan lived within her and the state would execute her for her children's killings, thus eliminating evil from the world.
Prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said Yates must be held accountable for cutting her children's lives short. Yates didn't start claiming Satan lived within her or referring to a prophecy until the day after her arrest when she realized she had killed her five children and found herself naked in a jail cell, Williford argued.
She said Yates, a former nurse, had thought about harming her children for years and ignored a doctor's orders in 1999 to refrain from having any more by getting pregnant with her youngest child, Mary.
"Andrea Yates knew right from wrong and she made a choice on June 20 to kill her children," Williford said. "She made that choice to have Mary. She made that choice to fill the tub."
About 2 hours into their discussions, jurors passed a note to State District Judge Belinda Hill asking for a definition of insanity. Hill replied with the Texas legal definition, describing it as a severe mental disease or defect that keeps someone from recognizing their conduct was wrong.
While expert witnesses had testified about Yates' mental defects and whether she knew her actions were wrong, the specific legal determination of insanity should be left to jurors to decide, experts had said. During questioning before they were selected, jurors also were instructed by lawyers about the definition.
Thirty minutes later, jurors asked for a cassette player, which was provided. Among items in evidence are audio tapes of Yates' confession and her 911 telephone call to police the day of the drownings.
Williford pointed to Yates' statements to police on the day of the drownings and how the stay-at-home mother told police Sgt. Eric Mehl during her confession that when Noah tried to run from her, "I got him."
"She got him and the loving act of this mother was to leave his body in the tub ... floating in the vomit and the feces and the urine that had been expelled in that water by the four who had gone before him," Williford said. "She never told any of those officers that she killed those children to save them."
Yates sobbed quietly as Williford described the condition police found her children. Her husband, Russell, his arms crossed, sat a few rows back in the courtroom spectator section. Yates' mother and brothers sat on the opposite side of the courtroom.
Defense attorneys urged jurors to remember Yates' actions were those of a diagnosed schizophrenic suffering from psychosis.
"I implore you to please, please, not allow that horrific set of circumstances — Noah, John, Paul, Luke, and precious Mary — to take your eye off the prize, to deflect your attention from the very issue that you must come to grips with in this case," Parnham said.
"She killed those children out of love because a loving mother will do anything to save her children from danger," said Odom, Parnham's defense partner.
Neither the state nor the defense contested that she suffered from a severe mental disease or that she killed her five children.
"She may have believed it was in the best interest of the children to drown them one after the other, but that's not the law in Texas," prosecutor Joe Owmby said.
"It's not that I am without sympathy or that you are without sympathy," he added. "You have to decide this case based on the facts of the law. ... Find her guilty as charged because that's what she is."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.