Jan 10, 2005
A Texas appeals court reversed the 2002 conviction of a severely mentally ill woman convicted of drowning her children, because the prosecution had presented false evidence in the trial.
There was no doubt that Andrea Yates had drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001. What was in question was her mental state.
Yates had been diagnosed with postpartum depression and psychosis for years, and had been hospitalized several times. She had attempted suicide, and she was taking anti-psychotic drugs. She was, in short, a very sick woman. A doctor who had treated her after the birth of her fourth child had said that she was one of the most mentally ill people he had met.
Clearly, Yates was not in control of her actions – and four psychiatrists testified to this effect for the defense.
Seeking to obscure this reality, the prosecution found an "expert witness" who would distort the truth – and flat-out lie.
Dr. Park Dietz, the prosecutions's hired-gun witness, stated that Yates, though psychotic at the time of the killings, somehow knew right from wrong – because she called the police on herself; and because she heard the voice of Satan telling her to kill her children and not the voice of God!
But his most damning testimony concerned the "Law & Order" TV show. Dietz asserted that he had consulted on an episode in which a woman had drowned her children in a bathtub and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Dietz claimed this episode had aired shortly before Yates killed her children.
Yates was known to be an avid "Law & Order" watcher. The prosecution ran with this tid-bit, saying that it showed Yates had planned the whole thing, and got the idea from the show to make it LOOK like she was insane.
The problem was, no such episode had ever run on "Law & Order." Dietz openly lied about it and the prosecution added to his lie.
The lie was discovered by a reporter after Yates was already convicted, but before she was sentenced.
Not only did the prosecution not call for a mistrial, it continued to defend the verdict. Even now, the prosecution says it will appeal this reversal, saying that this central part of their case was unimportant to Yates' conviction!
Andrea Yates and her children are all victims – of a society that is deeply reactionary toward women – and all the more so in recent years as politicians pander to and try to reinforce reactionary ideas. Denying the reality of postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, they brand women suffering from this as morally depraved – as bad mothers. And they reduce the already inadequate health care, denying the mentally ill the consistent help that they need.
What has happened to Yates and to her children is a horrendous tragedy. The prosecution and the trial court in Texas were ready to compound this tragedy – in order to push a reactionary social agenda.