Nearly five year to the day after Andrea Yates drowned her five children in a bathtub, defense attorneys and Harris County prosecutors will begin picking a jury tomorrow in her retrial, which begins next week. Houston Public Radio’s Jack Williams has a preview.
The second trial could be a near duplicate of the first one in early 2002, when a jury rejected Yates’ insanity defense and sentenced her to life in prison for the June 2001 killings. Prosecutors plan to call many of the same witnesses, and the defense plans to do the same, with some additional testimony planned about her mental health issues in prison. University of Houston Law School professor Joan Krause says the passage of time since the murders and Yates conviction could benefit both sides.
“There’s just been a lot more attention to these issues and people may be much more sympathetic, but on the other hand the prosecution is certainly not going to let anybody forget exactly what Ms. Yates did. I think there’s going to be enough reminders through the evidence that’s presented about exactly what happened to these children that in some ways the horror may be seen anew by the jurors in this case.”
Although Yates faced the death penalty in her first trial, she won’t in the retrial, which could change the dynamic of the case and affect what type of jurors are picked. That according to South Texas College of Law professor Shelby Moore who says she thinks Yates has the advantage with the death penalty not an option.
“I think it benefits her more because I think if it’s not on the table, then perhaps the jurors are more likely inclined to see the insanity defense a little differently. I think they may be willing to see it as a true reason for why she actually killed those kids.”
Yates’ earlier conviction was overturned last year by an appeals court because of false testimony from a prosecution witness. Despite that miscue, Moore says prosecutors would be smart to use the same strategy they employed last time, but that the defense may want to consider new ways to convince the jury that Yates was insane.
“The defense has to look at the case a little bit differently because they did lose, the jurors did not believe that she was insane, or under the McNaughton Rule, that she actually would be able to be found not guilty. I think they have to look at some other avenues to defend her. It may be insanity but they may have to lay some other things on the table that are equally convincing if not more.”
120 potential jurors have spent part of the week filling out questionaires that will help the defense and prosecution settle on a jury. The trial begins on Monday and could last about a month.