HOUSTON – An appeals court ruled Thursday that Andrea Yates' capital murder retrial shouldn't be halted on double jeopardy claims. The trial is set to begin Monday.
The First Court of Appeals, which overturned Yates' two capital murder convictions last year, sided with state District Judge Belinda Hill's ruling that defense claims of double jeopardy were frivolous.
Attorney George Parnham had argued Yates shouldn't be retried for the 2001 bathtub drowning deaths of her children because it would constitute double jeopardy.
He had asked the appeals court to halt the trial or at least delay it while the panel considered written arguments. Parnham claimed prosecutorial misconduct in Yates' first trial should prevent a retrial.
Prosecutors argued to the appeals court that Yates had failed to show any misconduct in her "outrageous assertion" of double jeopardy. They argued her retrial should go forward next week.
The three-member appeals panel agreed.
Appeals Judge Sam Nuchia wrote Yates did not prove the trial court abused its discretion by finding there was no prosecutorial misconduct -- something she would have had to prove for there to be a double jeopardy concern. Therefore, Nuchia wrote, there was no need for the appeals panel to consider her double jeopardy claim.
"We are very pleased that the legal tactics of the defense have been rejected by the court of appeals, and we are hopeful that we can now finally place our complete focus upon going to trial," prosecutor Alan Curry said following Thursday's ruling.
Parnham said the ruling wasn't completely unexpected and said his claims were made in "good faith."
"We believe that there was merit to the information presented," he said.
Curry wrote in his appeals brief earlier this week that Yates' defense attorneys were attacking two career prosecutors with the "flimsiest of evidence" in an attempt to make sure "the start of her new trial will be delayed, or even permanently prohibited."
Parnham and his co-counsel, Wendell Odom, claimed prosecutors should have known testimony about a nonexistent episode of the television legal drama "Law & Order" by their expert witness, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, was false.
They say both prosecutors and Dietz had the necessary resources to determine whether the "Law & Order" episode existed.
Dietz testified during Yates' original 2002 capital murder trial that an episode of "Law & Order" in which a woman was acquitted of killing her child based on insanity aired in the weeks leading up to Yates' arrest for the drownings of her five children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years.
Parnham claimed prosecutors used the testimony to provide jurors with a blueprint for Yates "to get out of a trapped marriage by murdering her children and escaping prosecution or a conviction by pleading insanity."
Last year, the appeals panel overturned Yates' convictions based on Dietz's testimony. Dietz said his testimony was a mistake. Jurors learned of the incorrect testimony after they convicted Yates, but before they sentenced her to life in prison.
The appeals court also said last year that no prosecutorial misconduct existed.
Parnham wrote that prosecutors engaged in "a 'win by any means necessary' tactic by precipitating, furthering and then condoning false testimony in a desperate attempt to thwart an acquittal" which tainted "the entire trial process."
Earlier this month, Hill ruled prosecutors were unaware Dietz's testimony was false. The judge noted the incorrect testimony came in response to a question by Parnham and that when he asked for a mistrial, Parnham made no claim of prosecutorial misconduct.
Parnham said he didn't claim prosecutorial misconduct at the time because it was only later that he realized it had occurred.
Yates, 41, has again pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.
Psychiatrists in her original trial testified she suffered from schizophrenia and postpartum depression, but expert witnesses disagreed over the severity of her illness and whether it prevented her from knowing that drowning her children was wrong.