HOUSTON (AP) _ The tormented woman who drowned her five children in a bathtub was sentenced to life in prison, following a trial that sparked debate over the consideration of mental illness and postpartum depression in murder prosecutions.
A jury of eight women and four men delivered the sentence Friday after just 35 minutes of deliberations, rejecting the option of condemning Andrea Yates to death by injection.
After the jury returned its punishment, Russell Yates reiterated his support for his wife, who had pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.
``I believe in Andrea,'' he said. ``She's the victim here not only of the medical community but also the justice system.''
Andrea Yates turned to her attorneys and smiled as she realized her life had been spared. As the 37-year-old was led from the courtroom by officers, she looked back toward her mother and siblings.
Yates must serve at least 40 years behind bars before she becomes eligible for parole.
To impose the death penalty, the jury had to decide unanimously that Yates poses a continuing danger and that there were no mitigating circumstances against executing her. The jury answered no to the first question and therefore did not have to consider the second.
On Tuesday, jurors had found Yates guilty of murder in the June 20 deaths of 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary. They rejected defense claims that severe psychosis from postpartum depression drove her to kill.
``We're obviously disappointed in the verdict of guilty,'' Russell Yates said. ``Obviously, it could be worse if she had been given the death penalty.''
Charges never were filed in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.
Prosecutors said they accepted the jury's decision to sentence Yates to life in prison.
``Every case involving the death of a child is horrific,'' Assistant District Attorney Kaylynn Williford said. ``Magnify that times five with what these children went through.
``Everyone is trying to make this a woman's issue or a political issue, but the issue to me is five dead children. None of those children chose to die, they fought for their lives and they need to be remembered appropriately. Someone can be mentally ill and know right from wrong.''
Joe Lovelace of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill said the Yates case should be a springboard to change how an insanity defense can be presented in Texas.
Under state law, attorneys cannot explain to jurors that a verdict of innocent by reason of insanity doesn't mean a defendant is immediately free. The defendant would be kept in a state mental hospital until deemed healthy enough to be released.
Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to a meeting of the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors on Friday, said he didn't think any laws need to be revised.
``I don't see any reason to change the process we have in place today,'' he said. ``I trust the jury system in the state of Texas so I will respect their decision.''
Yates, who is scheduled to be formally sentenced Monday, will be the 70th female inmate in Texas imprisoned for killing her children, Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials said.
``We took no pleasure in prosecuting Mrs. Yates and we take no joy in this result or any result that may have occurred,'' prosecutor Joe Owmby said. ``What they came back with was supported by the evidence. I can't argue with their verdict.''
Jurors declined to comment.
Defense attorneys in their closing arguments urged the jury to choose a life sentence over death. But prosecutors said Yates' life shouldn't be more important than the lives of her five children.
While Williford never directly told jurors what punishment they should choose, she said she thought they could answer the two questions posed to them in a way that would result in death by injection.
``This crime is the crime of ultimate betrayal: the ultimate betrayal of a mother to her children,'' Williford said. ``Those children never had a chance.''
Defense attorney Wendell Odom said the state never presented an expert to testify during the punishment phase that Yates would be a future danger to society. Yates killed her children out of love, which ``mitigates against the death penalty,'' he said.
Texas is by far the nation's most active death penalty state, with 262 executions since 1982. Harris County, where the case was brought, has 157 convicted killers on death row, more than any other Texas county.