HOUSTON – Andrea Yates pleaded innocent by reason of insanity in the drowning deaths of her children Monday as she made her first court appearance since her 2002 capital murder convictions were overturned.
State District Judge Belinda Hill set a March 20 trial date.
Yates, 41, may remain in the custody of the Harris County Sheriff's Department until she is retried for the deaths of three of her five children. Her attorney, George Parnham, wants Yates sent to Rusk State Hospital until the new trial.
Until last week, Yates had been imprisoned at East Texas' Skyview Prison Unit, a psychiatric prison. She appeared in court Monday wearing glasses and an orange jail jumpsuit.
During her original trial, jurors rejected Yates' insanity defense and found her guilty for the 2001 deaths of three of the children drowned in the family bathtub: 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and the youngest, 6-month-old Mary.
Evidence was presented about the drownings of the other two children — Paul, 3, and Luke, 2 — but Yates was not charged in their deaths.
Yates was convicted of two capital murder charges and sentenced to life in prison.
Her convictions were overturned last January by a state appeals court because of testimony by the state's expert witness, forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz. He testified that, shortly before Yates killed her five children, television's "Law and Order" series broadcast an episode about a woman with postpartum depression who drowned her children. No such episode ever existed.
"Although no one relishes the idea of going through another trial, our focus will remain on seeking justice for Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary," prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said Monday.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys said plea deal negotiations were ongoing but they agreed not to discuss them publicly. Both sides said they are preparing for a trial.
To prove insanity in Texas, a defendant must prove she suffered from a severe mental disease or defect and did not know her actions were wrong.