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Yates is Sentenced to Life in Prison


March 14, 2002
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Yates is Sentenced to Life in Prison

HOUSTON (AP) -- After less than an hour of deliberations, a jury spared Andrea Yates from the death penalty Friday and sentenced the mentally ill housewife to life in prison for drowning her children in the bathtub.

Yates, 37, will have to serve at least 40 years before becoming eligible for parole.

Yates stood while the verdict was read, her attorney's arm around her, but had no apparent reaction.

The jury that took less than four hours to reject Yates' claim of insanity and convict her of murder Tuesday returned the sentence with similar speed after prosecutors made a less-than-forceful push for the death penalty.

Yates' five children ``never had a chance and you need to think about those children,'' prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said in closing arguments of the penalty phase. But avoiding a forceful call for Yates' death, she said: ``Whatever decision you make, the state will accept.''

To impose the death penalty, the jury of eight women and four men needed to decide unanimously that Yates was a future danger and that there were no mitigating circumstances against executing her. The jury answered no to the first question and therefore did not have to answer the second.

Yates' husband, Russell, had no reaction as he watched in the courtroom. His brother, Randy Yates, nodded affirmatively. Andrea Yates' sister, sitting across the courtroom, wiped tears from her eyes.

As Andrea Yates was led from the courtroom by officers, she looked back toward her mother and siblings.

The sentence brought a swift end to a case that began last June 20, when a wet and bedraggled Yates called police to her home and showed them the bodies of her five children, age 6 months to 7 years. She had called them into the bathroom and drowned them one by one.

At trial, Yates' lawyers and her husband argued that she suffered from severe postpartum depression and that she had no choice but to kill her children to save them from the clutches of Satan.

Prosecutors acknowledged she was mentally ill, but that she could tell right from wrong and was thus not legally insane at the time of the killings.

The case stirred new debate over the legal standard for mental illness and whether postpartum depression is properly recognized and taken seriously. Women's groups had harshly criticized prosecutors for pushing for the death penalty.

Before the trial, prosecutors had offered to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a guilty plea. After the jury rejected Yates' claim that she was innocent by reason of insanity, prosecutors offered no new evidence or witnesses during the penalty phase, saying all the evidence had been laid out during the trial.

Prosecutors in their closing arguments said Yates' life shouldn't be more important than the lives of her five children.

``It's not just about Andrea Yates,'' assistant district attorney Williford said, holding an exhibit with the photos of the five slain children. ``It's about Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary.''

While Williford never directly told jurors punishment they should choose for Yates, she said she thought they could answer the two questions posed to them in a way that would result in death by injection.

``This crime is the crime of ultimate betrayal: the ultimate betrayal of a mother to her children,'' Williford said. ``Those children never had a chance.''

Defense attorneys pleaded for Yates' life saying she isn't a future danger and her mental illness, background and character speak volumes about why she should receive a life term rather than death.

``You may believe that the defendant knew the wrongfulness of her actions, but that does not mean you don't believe she was mentally ill,'' defense lawyer Wendell Odom told jurors. ``She will live the rest of her life knowing what she's done.

``When it comes to punishment, there can be no greater punishment.''

Odom told jurors the state never presented an expert to testify during the brief punishment phase that Yates would be a future danger. He said Yates killed her children out of love, which ``mitigates against the death penalty.''

``If you follow the law, you do the right thing,'' he said. ``If you don't follow the law, a woman dies and we all have to live with that.''




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