Insanity Remains Focus in Yates' Second Trial for Drowning Murders

A woman who drowned her five children often struggles with deep depression or hallucinations in the weeks around June 20, the anniversary of the night five years ago when she killed them.

During that period this year, Andrea Yates will be in court for her second murder trial.

Jurors, who will be selected beginning Thursday, will hear largely the same evidence as in Yates' first trial, but they also will hear about her psychotic episodes since her 2002 conviction, which was overturned on appeal, defense attorney George Parnham said.

In 2004, for example, Yates was hospitalized in July after starving herself for up to six weeks, losing about 30 pounds, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch Hospitals' discharge records. She believed she saw "babies yelling for help," the records show.

"We've got four years of mental health records to show she's still severely mentally ill," Parnham said.

Yates is again pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. Parnham maintains that severe postpartum psychosis prevented her from knowing that it was wrong to drown her children, ages 6 months to 7 years.

Prosecutors, however, insist that Yates does not meet Texas' legal definition of insanity: not knowing at the time that one's actions are wrong. They plan to present the same evidence showing how Yates killed the children after her husband left for work and before her mother-in-law arrived to help, and how Yates called emergency services to report the crime.

"Everything I've seen has reaffirmed that she was sane at the time she killed her kids," prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said. "What's at the crux of this case is: You can be mentally ill and know right from wrong and be held criminally responsible."

If convicted, Yates could be imprisoned for life. Because the first jury rejected the death penalty, prosecutors cannot seek that penalty again without presenting new evidence.

She has been in a state psychiatric hospital awaiting her retrial since she was released from prison earlier this year on $200,000 bail. Opening statements start June 26, and the trial is expected to last through the end of July.

Yates' conviction was overturned last year by the state's 1st Court of Appeals, which said a prosecution witness' erroneous testimony could have influenced the jury's decision.

That witness, Dr. Park Dietz, a psychiatrist who has been a consultant for the "Law & Order" television series, testified that one episode that aired before the Yates children were killed depicted a woman who drowned her children in a bathtub and was acquitted by reason of insanity.

Yates frequently watched the series, according to other testimony, and a prosecutor — not Dietz — suggested her actions were inspired by that episode.

After the jury found Yates guilty, attorneys in the case learned no such episode existed.

In preparation for the retrial, prosecutors have reviewed boxloads of evidence.

Prosecutors will call Dietz to testify again, along with other witnesses from the first trial, Williford said.

"Basically, our case in chief will be the same," she said, declining to say what the state may do differently this time.

For the defense, Parnham said he planned to call 40 to 50 witnesses, including the same doctors who previously testified about Yates' mental condition. He said jurors also will be told more about her stays at a psychiatric hospital shortly before the 2001 drownings.

Andrea's then-husband, Russell Yates, testified for the defense in her first trial. Parnham said he planned to call Rusty Yates again but would approach him in a "different" way. He would not elaborate.

Rusty Yates did not return calls seeking comment but has said he continues to stand by Andrea. He divorced her last year, and in March he remarried at the same church where the funeral for his children was held.