Local Expert In Yates Case Has High-Profile Experience
February 18, 2002 at 8:51 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 5:00 PM
By PAM EASTON, Associated Press Writer
HOUSTON (AP) - Two of the nation's top forensic psychiatrists have spent hours analyzing the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, Susan Smith and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
Now, Park Dietz and Phillip Resnick have turned their attention to Andrea Yates, the Houston mother accused of drowning her five children in the family's bathtub last summer.
Resnick (pictured, right) is a psychiatry professor at Case Western University's School of Medicine in Cleveland. Dietz runs a California-based private forensic consulting firm that offers services to Hollywood stars dealing with obsessive fans.
Yates, 37, set to go on trial Monday, faces the death penalty if convicted of capital murder for the drowning deaths of three of her five children. Defense attorneys say the stay-at-home mom is innocent by reason of insanity.
While Dietz and Resnick will be opponents during the Yates case, they have been friends for more than two decades and both worked with the prosecution teams in notorious cases of serial killer Dahmer and Kaczynski.
"When you know something about the other person, their personality, how they prep, where they give and don't give, you are going to use every bit of knowledge you have," said Neil Kaye, a fellow psychiatrist and friend of both. "They like each other and respect each other and will have dinner together on another night."
But while the pair has agreed in some cases, their opinions differ on others. They have gone head-to-head in the case of Smith, accused of drowning her two sons in South Carolina, and in John du Pont's 1997 murder trial, where the chemical fortune heir claimed insanity.
"You will probably see Phil focus more on the psychology of the entire case," Kaye said. "I would suspect you will see Park focus a little more on the behavior."
"There are some real differences between them in their styles," he added. "They are both brilliant and gifted and will do the best possible job for their respected sides."
Resnick is working for the defense. Dietz is testifying for the prosecution.
"Phil would not take the defense side of this case unless he really believed it," Kaye said. "You don't do these types of cases unless you really believe the story. There is just too much work and too much emotion that you have to put in."
When David Bruck was preparing for Smith's 1994 murder case, he hired Resnick. He knew that Resnick was an expert on mothers who kill their children -- and on Dietz.
"It makes a great deal of sense to have someone who knows how Dietz works and how to respond to it," Bruck said. "Dietz has the same approach in every case. He takes the most unsympathetic interpretation."
Smith was sentenced to life in prison, avoiding the death penalty, following her conviction in the deaths of her 3-year-old and 14-month-old sons. Jurors determined Smith knew what she was doing when she strapped her children into the family's car and sent it careening into a lake.
"You have to show that conscious decisions were made no matter how horrific they were," said Tommy Pope, who prosecuted Smith. "It's a difficult thing to put our arms around because the discomfort hits us on an emotional level.
"You have to let the jury know the pain that was caused and the nature of the crime, but sometimes it comes with a tremendous toll. If we believe people can just decide to do something like this, it just scares us to death."
Dietz is a psychiatrist who makes the complicated simple and juries often embrace simplicity, Bruck said.
"We desperately need to make sense of things like this and Dietz is very good at making sense of things," Smith's attorney said. "His mantra is: she did this because she chose to do it."
Dennis McAndrews, who in 1997 prosecuted du Pont for the shooting death of Olympic wrestler David Schultz, said he had hoped for a first-degree murder conviction, but ended up with a lesser third-degree conviction.
McAndrews said Dietz helped him beat du Pont's insanity defense by pointing to the chemical fortune heir's actions. Defense attorney Thomas Bergstrom had claimed du Pont believed Schultz was an agent of an international conspiracy to kill him.
Prosecutors pointed out that after du Pont shot Schultz he held police at bay while he hid in his mansion for two days.
"In terms of the tools that a psychiatrist has to determine a defendant's mental state at the time the crime was committed, the best indication will always be behavior because those are the facts that are indisputable," McAndrews said.
However, Bergstrom, who worked with Resnick in forming his client's defense, said du Pont received the lesser charge because jurors took an overall view of the case.
"The Dietz approach, although admittedly we didn't get an insanity verdict, was too sterile," Bergstrom said. "He fails to take into account the whole mental process."
Mental processes played a large role in Dahmer's 1992 insanity defense, which Dietz and Resnick worked together with prosecutors to defeat.
Gerald Boyle, who defended Dahmer, said he couldn't help but leave the courtroom with a great deal of respect for Dietz.
"He was an unbelievably good witness," Boyle said.
Dahmer was charged with the deaths and dismemberments of 15 young men in Milwaukee County. Dietz pointed to Dahmer's use of condoms while he had sex with his dead victims. Dietz said the behavior showed Dahmer's sexual urges were less intense than those of most teen-agers.
The attention to detail is a Dietz trait, said McAndrews.
"Typically when I prepare an expert for testimony, it takes me two or three hours," he said. "It took a lot longer with Park. He made me a better lawyer by his insistence that we touch all the bases."
"They are brilliant, meticulous, careful and well-prepared," McAndrews said of Resnick and Dietz. "They are both somewhat clinical in the way they discuss the case in that they take substantial care not to go beyond what the evidence would show."
The same will likely be true in the Yates case, Kaye said.
"Phil's job is to get the jury to see things through her eyes and not just to see, but to feel," Kaye said. "He will bring a much more humanitarian viewpoint into the case and obviously humanizing the defendant is very, very important.
"I would expect that Park is likely to stay in a more cognitive realm."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)