Texas Court Reverses Child-Killer Yates' Conviction
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Andrea Yates, the Houston mother serving a life sentence for drowning her five children in 2001, had her murder convictions overturned by a Texas state appeals court on Thursday because of flawed testimony by an expert witness.
The three-member panel of the Texas 1st Court of Appeals said it reversed the verdicts of a lower court in part because of errors in the testimony from the state's expert psychiatric witness, Dr. Park Dietz.
Dietz had told the jury Yates patterned the killings on an episode of the television series Law & Order, for which he had worked as a consultant. However, defense lawyers discovered the episode he cited never existed.
"We conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that Dr. Dietz's false testimony could have affected the judgment," the court said in its unanimous ruling overturning the conviction.
A lower court had rejected Yates' insanity defense in the original trial and found her guilty of capital murder.
Harris County prosecutor Joe Ownby, who plans to appeal the ruling, said "I am disappointed but not shocked at the ruling." He said the testimony by Dietz was "not critical as to the outcome of the case."
The prosecution plans to seek a re-hearing by the same panel that ruled on Thursday. If that fails it would ask for a hearing by the full 1st Court of Appeals, and if needed would take the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Yates suffered from severe postpartum depression after the birth of her fifth child and was taking medication at the time of the killings.
She admitted to drowning the children, who ranged in age from six months to seven years, in the family bathtub on June 20, 2001, while her husband was at work at the nearby NASA (news - web sites) Johnson Space Center.
She told police she killed the children to save them from the devil, but a Houston jury convicted her of capital murder in March 2002 for three of the deaths.