was it postpartum depression or murder?
HOUSTON -- A state appeals court has overturned the capital murder convictions against Andrea Yates and ordered a new trial in the drownings of her children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years.
The Houston mother was serving a life sentence for the 2001 drownings of three of her five children. All five children were drowned in a bathtub at the family's home.
The Texas First Court of Appeals issued its ruling in Houston today in a 12-page opinion signed by court Justice Sam Nuchia.
A three-judge panel found that the Harris County trial jury might have been prejudiced against Yates by the false testimony of a prosecution expert.
Park Dietz testified he consulted on an episode of the NBC-TV show "Law and Order" about a woman with postpartum depression acquitted by reason of insanity in the drowning of her children. It was later revealed that no such program existed.
"That is the one thing in this case that allowed the state to say this wasn't psychosis, it wasn't mental illness -- it was a conscious plan. Without the testimony of Dr. Dietz, the state would not have been able to make their case," Yates' appeal attorney Troy McKinney said. "This case boiled down to a battle of the experts and the powerful testimony of Dr. Dietz ultimately prevailed."
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry said Dietz's testimony about the television show came during cross-examination by Yates' defense attorney. There were three weeks of testimony that dealt with Yates' plans to kill her children, ranging in age from six months to 7 years, and her knowledge that doing so was wrong, he said.
"Dr. Dietz did not suggest by that testimony or elsewhere that (Yates) used that episode in order to assist her in planning, premeditating or calculating the killing of her children," Curry wrote. "There was a great deal of other evidence which revealed that (Yates) planned and/or premeditated her killing of her children."
Curry cited a tape-recorded police interview with Yates in which she said she had thought about killing her children for two years and in the weeks leading up to the drownings had filled the bathtub with water but "didn't do it that time."
Her appeal cited 19 errors from her 2002 trial.
Jurors in 2002 sentenced Yates to life in prison in the 2001 deaths of three of her children. She was not tried in the deaths of the other two.
Among the other errors cited by Yates' attorneys are the court's decision to show jurors the clothing the children were wearing when they died; the requirement that jurors be "death qualified" because the case involved capital murder charges, which can carry the death penalty; and the judge not informing jurors of the consequences of an innocent by reason of insanity verdict.
The appeal court's decision is expected in three to six months.
During her trial, psychiatrists testified Yates suffered from schizophrenia and postpartum depression, but defense and prosecution witnesses disagreed over the severity of her illness and whether it prevented her from knowing that drowning her children was wrong -- the two requirements to be declared legally insane in Texas. Jurors determined Yates knew it was wrong to kill her children and convicted her.
Yates, who will be eligible for parole in 2041, remains jailed at the Skyview Unit in Rusk, where she works in an outdoor flower garden and has janitorial duties.
Earlier this year, her husband, Russell, filed for divorce. He attended Tuesday's appeal and wasn't wearing a wedding ring