HOUSTON – A woman facing charges she drowned her children sobbed as prosecutors played a crime-scene videotape in court Tuesday showing her 7-year-old son floating dead in a bathtub and the bodies of her four younger children laid out on a bed.
The video also showed toys in the yard and a baby swing hanging from a tree outside the suburban home on June 20, 2001, the day Andrea Yates killed her five children. She watched that part intently, but looked down as the camera moved inside.
In the bathroom, it showed 7-year-old Noah floating face-down. Yates looked up briefly and began to cry. At least five jurors also wiped their eyes before state District Judge Belinda Hill called for a midmorning break.
The murder trial is Yates' second in the drowning of her children. Her 2002 conviction was overturned last year because of erroneous testimony.
As in her first trial, Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. If the jury agrees, she could be committed to a state hospital, with periodic hearings to determine whether she should be released. A guilty verdict would mean life in prison.
The defense says Yates suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and did not know that drowning the children was wrong.
Prosecutors say her actions belie those claims, saying Yates waited until after her husband, Rusty, had gone to work and before her mother-in-law arrived to help out before she drowned Noah, 5-year-old John, 3-year-old Paul, 2-year-old Luke and 6-month-old Mary.
Both sides are expected to call most of the same witnesses as in the first trial.
On Monday, police Officer David Knapp, the first to arrive at the house, testified that when he asked Yates why she called 911, she said: "I just killed my kids."
He said he followed Yates inside the house and saw two sets of wet footprints on the tile living room floor, indicating one of the children had escaped the bathtub before she caught him again.
Yates was expressionless but made eye contact, answered questions and followed officers' instructions, even reading and signing a consent-to-search form, several officers testified. She even told an officer where to find clean glasses for drinking water and keys to unlock doors, according to testimony.
"She seemed normal to me," Sgt. David Svahn said.
But under cross-examination, some officers said Yates had a flat demeanor indicative of mental illness and that her reaction was unlike that of other mothers who just lost their children.
Yates is being tried only in the deaths of Mary, John and Noah, a common practice in cases of multiple slayings.