Trial opens in children's drownings

Tuesday, January 8, 2002

HOUSTON -- Andrea Yates, who has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity in the bathtub drowning deaths of her five young children, went on trial Monday as attorneys began evaluating dozens of potential jurors.

Yates, 37, could get the death penalty if jurors decide she was sane last summer when she drowned the children, ranging in age from 6 months to 7 years.

Yates stared downward or rested her hand on her chin as 60 potential jurors assembled in the courtroom after completing a 14-page questionnaire. Her husband, Russell, and her mother were among the spectators seated at the back of the room.

Individual questioning by prosecutors and defense attorneys will begin today. State District Judge Belinda Hill said she expects that once testimony begins, probably next month, the trial will probably take about four weeks.

"This is going to be a pretty long process," she said.

On the day of her arrest, Yates called 911 and then told officers who arrived at her home that she had killed her five children.

In a back bedroom, four lifeless children were discovered under a sheet on a bed. A fifth body was face down in a half-filled bathtub.

Yates' attorneys and her husband say she suffers from a severe form of postpartum depression. If found innocent, they say she will be placed in a mental hospital.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys have submitted long lists of expert witnesses to testify about Yates' mental status.

Evidence to be considered includes a tape-recorded confession Yates gave police officers the day of the drownings, medical records detailing her bouts with depression and suicide attempts, and a doctor's caution that the couple think twice about having additional children after their fourth child was born in 1999.

Yates faces two capital murder charges: for drowning Noah, 7, and John, 5; and for drowning Mary, 6 months. In Texas, a person convicted of a multiple murder or killing an infant can be put to death.

Charges are pending for the drownings of Paul, 3, and Luke 2.

Yates' attorneys have asked the judge to throw out the charges on grounds that Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal made statements to the media about grand jury testimony.

Hill did not issue a ruling. She earlier named a special prosecutor to investigate whether Rosenthal and Yates' husband violated a gag order by speaking with reporters.

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