Woman accused of drowning her five children faces important hearing in advance of trial

Monday, December 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ Defense attorneys denounced prosecutors' pursuit of the death penalty for a woman who allegedly drowned her five children _ one of several legal maneuvers they have made as her trial draws nearer.

Lawyers for Andrea Pia Yates, 37, have filed 34 motions in advance of a pretrial hearing Monday. One accuses prosecutors of seeking the death penalty ``in bad faith'' as a ploy to ensure a conviction.

Yates faces two capital murder charges for drowning her five children in the family's bathtub in June. When police arrived at the home, after receiving a 911 call from Yates, they found the four youngest children's bodies still wet under a sheet on a bed. The oldest, 7-year-old Noah, was dead in the bathtub.

Yates' trial is scheduled for Jan. 7. She has said she is innocent by reason of insanity. Family members said she suffered from severe postpartum depression after the birth of the family's fifth child, 6-month-old Mary.

Her lawyers say by prosecutors seeking the death penalty, different standards apply during jury selection which will allow them to strike from consideration potential jurors who express concerns about sentencing a defendant to death.

Parnham says jurors with questions about the death penalty should not be removed from consideration because by doing so Yates would be denied a jury of her peers in a county where 30 to 50 percent of residents have some sort of opposition to the death penalty.

Prosecutors say excluding jurors unable to follow the law doesn't result in ``a jury that is unduly disposed to convict.''

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said only his office knows what evidence it has against Yates, and doesn't have to explain his decision to seek the death penalty.

Legal experts said they expect that Parnham faces an uphill battle on the jury issue.

``Yes, they would get a skewed panel, but the Supreme Court has said that is OK because it is a panel that is skewed toward those people that would follow the rules, even though everybody doesn't like those rules,'' said Daniel Shuman, a law professor at Southern Methodist University.

Other defense motions to be considered by State District Judge Belinda Hill seek to suppress statements Yates made during her 911 call and allow jurors to be told that if Yates is found innocent by reason of insanity that she will remain under the court's jurisdiction and won't automatically go free.

Prosecutors filed motions asking that defense identify its expert witnesses. The state already has received permission to have its mental health expert conduct a three-day evaluation to determine if Yates was insane at the time of the killings.