Andrea Yates' Second Trial Begins

Andrea Yates

(AP) HOUSTON In the five years since Andrea Yates filled her bathtub with water and drowned her five children, one by one, the facts of the case haven't changed.

But as her retrial begins Monday, defense attorneys and mental health advocates hope the public's mindset about mentally ill defendants has.

Since Yates' 2002 conviction, which was overturned on appeal last year, several other Texas mothers killed their children and were found innocent by reason of insanity. Those verdicts -- as well as community outreach and education efforts about mental illness -- are encouraging to Yates' attorneys, who say her severe postpartum psychosis prevented her from knowing her actions were wrong.

"Jurors, I think, know now that it's a misconception that a person ... gets out of the defendant's chair, gets in the elevator and walks free," said George Parnham, Yates' lead attorney. "Andrea Yates will be in (a psychiatric hospital) for the rest of her life, no doubt about it."

But the prosecutor said the jury must consider only the evidence presented in this case -- not get caught up in public sentiment or try to send a message about mental health issues.

"This is not cookie-cutter justice," prosecutor Kaylynn Williford said. "I believe in the insanity defense, in which someone can commit a crime and not be held criminally responsible. I do not see that in this case based on the evidence."

Opening statements are set for Monday. If convicted of capital murder, Yates will be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors could not seek death again because the first jury rejected the death penalty and because authorities didn't find any new evidence.

Other youngsters' deaths at the hands of their mothers have drawn comparisons to the Yates case.

On the day before Mother's Day 2003, Deanna Laney bashed her three sons' heads with rocks, killing the 8- and 6-year-olds and severely injuring the 14-month-old. The Tyler-area woman, who said she believed God ordered her to kill her children, was found innocent by reason of insanity.

In 2003, Lisa Ann Diaz drowned her 3- and 5-year-old daughters by holding their heads under water in the bathtub of their Plano home. Diaz, only tried in the older child's death, was found innocent by reason of insanity.

In 2004, Dena Schlosser cut off her 10-month-old daughter's arms in the family's Plano apartment, then called 911 while a church hymn played in the background. After a deadlocked jury caused a mistrial in February, both sides agreed to let a judge rule in Schlosser's April retrial, and she was found innocent by reason of insanity.

Fred Moss, an associate law professor at SMU's Dedman School of Law in Dallas, said that determining whether the verdicts indicate a trend is difficult because the cases are not identical or in the same county.

"This part of the country in particular is very retributive in their notions of justice and think somebody has to pay for a death," Moss said. "She (Yates) got convicted the first time, so I'm not sanguine that these subsequent events will make the outcome substantially more likely to be different."

In Yates' favor is the fact that because she does not face death, potential jurors cannot be removed simply if they oppose the death penalty, Moss said.

"That might cause the jury to be comprised of more middle-of-the-roaders on law and order issues," Moss said. "That's the most significant different factor."

Some mental health experts say they hope publicity from the other cases, as well as increased public awareness about postpartum depression, not only prevent other tragedies but also lead to a different verdict for Yates this time.

After Yates was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston started the Yates Children Memorial Fund that created brochures about postpartum depression. The brochures in three languages are still distributed to doctors and clinics countywide.

Since last month, the association has been working with the city in doing postpartum depression screening for thousands of new mothers in WIC, the federal supplemental nutrition program for low-income women and their young children, said association director Betsy Schwartz.

The women showing signs of postpartum depression are sent to support groups and referred to mental health clinics for treatment, she said.

"More people know it's a brain disorder and not just something you can snap out of," Schwartz said. "We can only hope the jury will have a keen awareness of the chemistry and physiology of what was going on in Andrea Yates' brain when this happened."

Last year the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston overturned Yates' 2002 conviction, citing the erroneous testimony of a prosecution witness, Dr. Park Dietz, a psychiatrist and "Law & Order" television series consultant.

He told jurors that an episode depicting a woman who drowned her kids in a bathtub -- and was acquitted by reason of insanity -- aired before the Yates children were killed. But no such episode existed, attorneys learned after Yates was convicted.

As in the first trial, Yates is being tried only in the June 20, 2001, deaths of 6-month-old Mary, 5-year-old John and 7-year-old Noah. She was not charged in the deaths of 2-year-old Luke and 3-year-old Paul, which is not uncommon in a case involving multiple slayings.

Prosecutors say that all of the discussion about mental illness has taken the focus off the children.

"When I look at this case, I think how scared they were, how frightened," Williford said. "This case isn't just about Andrea Yates. Andrea Yates is known nationwide, but do people know the names of the five children? And they're the victims in this case."