Andrea, Again

Almost exactly five years later, the State of Texas still wants to put Andrea Yates into a prison instead of a mental health facility for the rest of her life for drowning her five beloved chlidren, one by one, in the bathtub of their home. Never mind that overwhelming medical evidence indicated during her first trial in 2002 that Yates when she killed was severely mentally ill, and suffering from post-partum depression, and had been taken off the only medication that had helped her. Never mind that prosecutors were never able to offer jurors any real motive, or even a decent or reasonable explanation, for why an otherwise attentive and patient mother would suddenly turn on her children and kill them in cold-blood.

Never mind that the first trial ended in a conviction that was overturned when it was discovered that the lead prosecution expert witness made a grievous error in linking Yates to an episode of Law and Order (in which a mother drowns her child) which never actually aired. Never mind that Yates breathing free air again has never been an option since a "not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity" verdict would render her to a secured hospital, probably for the rest of her life. I was in court during the first trial, for almost every day, and I have never seen someone before or since look as sick as she did-- nor have I ever heard medical experts, one after another except for the hired gun brought in by prosecutors, agree on the depth and breadth of Yates' illness. This is the woman that the State of Texas wants to spend more time and money trying to send her to a penitentiary. It is a black mark of shame on every single decision-maker in the Harris County prosecutor's office-- and upon the trial judge herself-- that it would come to this: jury selection begins in court today in Houston in Yates II.

As anyone who followed the Enron trial of Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay knows, jury selection in Texas is like speed dating. What should take weeks takes days. What should take days takes hours. That's why opening statements in Yates II already are scheduled for Monday even though it is hard to imagine that any potential juror in and around Houston doesn't know who Yates is, what she did, what happened to her in 2002 as a result, and what has happened since. You would think that the natural saturation of the story would make jury selection both extremely difficult and time consuming. You would think that jury candidates would be asked pointed and numerous questions about their preconceived notion of Yates, her children, and what happened on that hot late spring morning three months before 9/11.

But if you think that you would be wrong. Yates' trial judge, Belinda Hill, who certainly did not distinguish herself during Yates I, isn't likely to do any better in Yates II in ensuring that the defendant gets a jury that is as open-minded and free of taint as possible. Last week, Judge Hill ordered Yates to prison for the duration of the trial (she will be in court of course) but cannot stay at a mental health facility while the trial is underway. There is no reason to believe that Yates II will turn out any differently than Yates I; no reason to think that the passage of time has quenched the thirst of some to blame and then punish a poor mad woman for the ultimate act of insanity; doing harm to the innocent beings she loved most in the world. Doesn't anyone else think, in her rare moments of lucidity, if she has any, that she suffers enough?

By Andrew Cohen |  June 22, 2006; 8:22 AM ET
Previous: Mothers Make a Difference After Losing Their Kids | Next: Supremes Save Best for Last


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I think reasonable minds can disagree on Yates, and it is certainly a legitimate position that life in a mental institution would serve the interests of both sides, but comments like "hired gun" doctors and implications that the jury was tainted or closed-minded just render much of you post as hyperbole. Both sides use "hired guns,: and that terms is probably more appropriate for the defendants side. Attacking the jury, even before the second one is seated, is a tired and lazy argument.

Posted by: Scott | June 22, 2006 10:28 AM

I first learned of "voir dire" in 1951 when I took Criminal Law. But practising since 1954 in MA, it was of little meaning until only fairly recently but still quite limited. Yates II deserves an appropriate "voir dire" process and not a quick jury selection. The "voir dire" is in the hands of the judge. Perhaps a new judge might not have sensitive feelings that might affect her on the same defendant. As to "hired guns", which side has the deep pockets to hire them? Prosecution experts in Texas have had some problems in recent years, haven't they?

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | June 22, 2006 11:30 AM

you are so on the money with this once andrew! brilliant again.

your friend at court tv,

Posted by: jami floyd | June 22, 2006 02:20 PM

Actions like the retrial of Andrea Yates make me ashamed to admit that I'm from Harris County, Texas. But we hang 'em high here and worry about true guilt or innocence only when forced to. The bloodthirsty District Attorney is always out for another notch on his gun; only a thoughtful jury will be able to save her. Let's hope that reason and compassion rules this time.

Posted by: Harris County Resident | June 22, 2006 03:54 PM

The State of Texas is a state that is willing to execute mentally retarded individuals. Why would they hesitate to imprison a mentally ill mother?

Posted by: MC | June 23, 2006 12:07 AM

Dear Mr. Cohen,

Your article on Duke lacrosse has me absolutely in disbelief.

You speak of the defense spin. While there is some, you seem to forget to point out the playing the media began with the district attourney Mike Nifong. He came out and called the Duke lacrosse team hooligans and stated he will prove raped occured. I thought DA's were supposed to uncover truth? How wrong I was.

And while you are on the topic of spin, what about when the case broke? The media treated the Duke lacrosse players as if they were guilty and they should be locked up and the keys should be thrown away. The only unbiased people, who said wait for the evidence, were Dan Abrahms and Tucker Carlson on MSNBC.

MSNBC and Dan Abrahms then received a report on the first 1300 pages of discovery. A woman who Abrahms has had on his show a lot who was on the accusers side looked at the evidence and had serious doubts. Now 500 more pages were "discovered" were the initial police reports and the academic record of those indicted (what does that have to do with anything?).

And your "poor little Nifong" sentiment is pure crap. The media is after Nifong because of his unethical tactics: claiming guilt of Duke lacrosse before any evidence has gathered, calling the lacrosse team hooligans, implying a toxicology report in the first Neesweek article in April when none was done, an illegal photo lineup, laughing in court when the defense filed a charge, etc...

Then you ask if things would be different if three black men raped a woman. Well here is what happens:!news!columnists

Four African-Americans from Virginia Commonwealth are accused of rape of a woman who attends Richmond. Where is the media coverage?

Finally, all us doubters want to know is how many people were involved in this supposed rape? 20? 5? 4? 3 (I actually have not heard this number in any police documents, just from Nifong himself now).

The prosecution started the PR game with racially charged language. I do not think we can fault the defense for playing the PR game.

My email is Any and all please free feel to email me.

Posted by: Matthew Lofton | June 28, 2006 12:34 AM

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