Expert Yates Witness: 'Deck Was Stacked' Against Insanity Defense

By M.R. KROPKO, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A forensic psychiatrist who testified for the defense in the Andrea Yates murder trial said Monday he saw little chance she could have been found innocent by reason of insanity.

But the reason had to do with the jury selection process more than the clinical evidence, Dr. Phillip Resnick said.

Resnick (pictured, right) is a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine in Cleveland.

A judge sentenced Yates, 37, to life in prison Monday in the drowning of three of her five children. Texas District Judge Belinda Hill's life sentence could make Yates eligible for parole in 2041.

Jurors rejected an insanity defense and convicted Yates last week of capital murder in the June 20 drowning of Noah, 7, John, 5, and 6-month-old Mary. Evidence also was presented about the drowning of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2. The jury Friday rejected lethal injection.

Resnick, who interviewed Yates twice, testified at her trial that Yates knew drowning her children was illegal. But because of her mental illness, Yates thought it was the right decision to keep her children from eternal damnation.

"Since she was charged with a capital offense, every member of the jury had to say they were prepared to vote for death or else they were excluded from the jury," Resnick said.

Resnick said people who believe in capital punishment are "much more likely to reject an insanity defense. So the deck was stacked against her with respect to the jury."

But he said he was not surprised the jury chose prison for Yates over a death sentence.

"The mitigating circumstances were so extraordinary about how ill she was and what a devoted mother she was, I would have been surprised if the jury would have suggested death," Resnick said.

Joe Owmby, an assistant district attorney in Harris County, Texas, where the trial took place, said he believes the jury selection process was fair to Yates.

"You can be on a jury in Texas and be opposed to the death penalty if you are willing to follow the law," he said. "If you are trying someone for a death penalty, then at least you have to be able to say you would follow the law. That's what is meant by jurors having to be qualified."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)