Yates Retrial Set for March

Andrea Yates is headed for a new trial in March unless her attorneys and prosecutors can agree on a plea deal before then. The latest chapter in the Yates case includes new questions about where she belongs.

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In a brief appearance in downtown Houston, Yates was ushered into State District Judge Belinda Hill's courtroom, entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and was gone within just a couple of minutes. Hill set March 20th as Yates' trial date, but both the prosecution and the defense have hinted at ongoing plea negotiations that would help Yates avoid a retrial, although Assistant District Attorney Joe Owmby says the sides are a long way from an agreement.

"I don't know the parameters of any agreement that might work out because we don't have an agreement and until there is some agreement, there's no agreement. The judge set the trial date for March 20th. There will be interim sessions. We'll continue to talk to defense attorneys as well as prepare for trial."

Saying a guilty plea is out of the question, Yates' Attorney George Parnham still won't rule out some sort of plea arrangement. But he says any deal would have to include ongoing mental health treatment like the care she's gotten the past four years at an East Texas prison.

"We're never shutting the door on trying to get this resolved so that none of us have to go through the ordeal of another trial. That's something that no one relishes and I think I'm joined by the prosecutors. Whether we can achieve that or not is mere conjecture and speculative at this point in time."

Yates is currently being held in the Harris County Jail's Mental Health section, but Parnham would like to see her transferred to the secure State Mental Health Hospital in Rusk until the trial starts.

"She already has a doctor assigned to her at Rusk. The administrator has already approved Andrea's acceptance into that mental health facility. I've had a number of personal visits with the folks at Rusk. Everyone acknowledges that that's where Andrea can recieve the best mental health care this state has to offer."

The state hospital is just a few hundred yards from the prison facility where Yates has spent the past four years. Betsy Schwartz is the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston and says there's no doubt Yates belongs in a facilty where she can get the best mental health care.

"She absolutely should be in a mental health facility. It's hard to imagine that there's ever been a case where a person was more clearly acting from a state of mental illness than Andrea Yates."

Yates will not face the death penalty in a second trial. Her original conviction was overturned by an appeals court last year because of false testimony from a prosecution witness.

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