Andrea Yates' mother begs jury to spare life

Friday, March 15, 2002

HOUSTON -- Sobbing relatives of Andrea Yates pleaded for her life before a jury Thursday, calling her a wonderful mother who should be spared a death sentence for drowning her children in the bathtub.

"I've lost seven people in one year," said Jutta Karin Kennedy, referring to the slaying of her five grandchildren, the death of her husband and the conviction of her daughter in the children's deaths.

Yates, 37, was convicted Tuesday of two capital murder charges for killing three of the children. She is now in the penalty phase of her trial and could be sentenced to life in prison or death by injection.

Yates' sister cried as she sat with her two brothers among the courtroom's spectators.

Russell Yates, who earlier testified in his wife's defense and described her struggle with depression to jurors, choked back sobs as he said: "She's the kindest and most caring person I know."

Prosecutors offered no new witnesses or evidence. District Judge Belinda Hill said deliberations would begin Friday after closing arguments.

Defense attorney George Parnham told jurors he accepts their verdict but doesn't agree with it.

"In effect, her life is over one way or another," he said. "Her children are gone and she sits here through her lawyers asking that she be spared."

Under Texas law, a death sentence requires the jury to unanimously decide that Yates poses a future danger to society and that there are no mitigating circumstances.

Anything less than a unanimous vote means a life term.

Legal experts say prosecutors face an uphill battle in trying to prove Yates is a continuing threat.

Prosecutors also acknowledged during the trial that Yates suffered from a severe mental disease -- though the jury decided that she was sane when she killed the children.

"Mrs. Yates is a woman that has a severe mental illness and does not have the personality or character of someone who commits crimes unless influenced by that illness," said Dr. Lucy Puryear, a psychiatrist who testified for the defense during the trial.

Puryear said if Yates continued to take her medication and had no more children, "she'll be fine."

Yates was convicted of killing 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary. Charges have not been filed in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.

If Yates receives life, she would have to serve at least 40 years before becoming eligible for parole. If sentenced to die, she would become the ninth woman on Texas' death row.

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