Andrea Yates: A Continuing Story About Insanity
The Insanity Defense: Multidisciplinary Views on Its History, Trends, and Controversies 367- 416 (Mark D. White, ed. 2017) (Cal.: Praeger)
53 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2017
Date Written: January 1, 2017
In 2001, Andrea Yates did the unthinkable: she drowned her five children one by one in a bathtub within the course of minutes. She immediately confessed and explained that she killed them because she under the influence of Satan did not want them to be “tortured by Satan” as she was. Despite the defense uncovering evidence of Yates’ history of postpartum depression and psychosis, the jury did not accept her insanity defense and convicted her of capital murder with a sentence of life in prison. Influential in this decision was the testimony of prosecution expert Dr. Park Dietz, who pushed the view that Yates had rationally planned the murders. Dietz’s testimony was troubling, not only because there was little, if any, empirical basis for his conclusions, but because the defense discovered that he had introduced false testimony during the trial. During cross-examination, Dietz explained that he was a consultant for Law & Order and that one episode aired prior to Yates’ crime involving a woman with postpartum depression who drowned her children in a bathtub and was found insane. Yet the defense discovered no such show existed. Even though a grand jury found Dietz innocent of perjury, the defense appealed Yates’ sentence. Given the degree of Dietz’s impact on the jury, the Texas Court of Appeals reversed the judgment and remanded the case. In this second trial in 2006, Yates was no longer eligible for the death penalty and much more information had been uncovered regarding Yates’ mental condition. The jury unanimously found Yates not guilty by reason of insanity. While the Yates case helped to inform the world of the pervasiveness of postpartum depression and psychosis, no substantive changes have been made in Texas insanity law. This chapter explains how the state’s definition of insanity influenced the first trial and both constrained and confused how the jury could view Yates’ actions.
Keywords: post partum psychosis, insanity, death penalty, criminal law, punishment
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