Jury: Yates Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity

Andrea Yates' defense attorneys Parnham and Odom
Five years after drowning her five children in the bathtub of her Clear Lake home, Andrea Yates has been found not guilty by reason of insanity by a Harris County jury. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, the verdict ends a case that began on June 20th, 2001with the deaths of Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary Yates.

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After a month-long trial and 12-hours of deliberations, Judge Belinda Hill read the verdict.

"We the jury find the defendent Andrea Pia Yates not guilty by reason of insanity, signed Todd Christopher Frank, foreman of the jury."

Yates looked stunned as the verdict was read, bowing her head and weeping, a show of emotion that was absent when she was convicted in 2002. Her attorney, George Parnham, says in a round about way, the earlier conviction may have helped her and the issue of mental illness.

"She would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, there would have been a massive protest to change the law and get rid of the insanity defense because that woman didn't deserve to be acquitted, but it worked just the opposite. It took five years of doing, but people are talking and changes are taking place as we speak."

Andrea Yates' ex-husband Russell Yates

Ex-husband Russell Yates mouthed the word "wow" when he heard the verdict. He's remarried, but has continued to support his ex-wife since the murders. He says she's a completely different person now and has a chance to live a somewhat normal life.

"Five years is a long time you know. We've all, I think, healed quite a bit over the past five years from the initial tragedy. We were probably prepared for either verdict in this case. We're just very happy for Andrea that it was not guilty by reason of insanity. It just means a woman who we perceived to be also a victim in this, just like our children are, is going to get a better quality of life for herself."

The prosecution had pinned its hopes on high-profile psychiatrists who testified that Yates knew killing her children was both illegal and wrong under the state's insanity law. This is prosecutor Joe Owmby.

Andrea Yates prosecution attorneys

"We are extremely disappointed with the verdict. We respect the hard work that the jurors put into the case, the careful consideration of the evidence. They heard all of the evidence, all of the opinions and arguments of counsel and it's their decision that we'll respect."

Prosecutors say they don't plan to pursue the case any further, even though Yates was on trial for the deaths of only three of her children. Betsy Schwartz is the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston.

"This verdict sends a clear message that we as a society understand the profound impact of mental illnesses and I think it reinforces and encourages people who are suffering and living with mental illnesses that it's okay to get help. It helps to remove the shame."

Yates will be sent to a secure state mental hospital for treatment and will likely be evaluated on a yearly basis.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...