HOUSTON -- A jury took less than four hours Tuesday to find housewife Andrea Pia Yates guilty of capital murder for drowning her children in the family bathtub on a sunny summer morning.
The 37-year-old mother, who said she was insane at the time, could be executed for systematically putting her five children to death in a tub of water. A second round of testimony is to begin Thursday to decide Yates' punishment.
After a stunningly fast review of weeks of complex psychiatric testimony, the panel of four men and eight women rejected Yates' insanity claims. From the time Judge Belinda Hill uttered the first "guilty," the hushed rows of witnesses, family members and friends sat motionless with shock.
Yates turned to look at her mother and brother, and choked back a sob. She did not glance in the direction of her husband, who testified in her defense. When the verdict was read, Russell "Rusty" Yates gasped and dropped his head into his hands. He stayed hunched in his plastic chair, stared at the floor between his knees and shook his head from side to side.
The jury spent Tuesday morning listening to angry prosecutors argue in fiery inflections that Yates must be punished. She plotted the deaths meticulously, carried them out mercilessly and showed clear signs of understanding what she'd done, they said.
Yates waited until her husband left for work last June, then filled the bathtub and drowned her children. Months later, she told a state psychiatrist "it was a bad idea" and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. For years, the former nurse and high school valedictorian had struggled through hospitalizations, suicide attempts and bouts of depression. Her lawyers had hoped the Yates case would go down as a landmark in women's mental health.
But an insanity plea is difficult to pull off in Texas, where the definition is narrow. Yates needed to convince the jury she couldn't tell right from wrong when she killed the children -- even though she told detectives she understood what she'd done and deserved to be punished.
"The problem with the Texas definition of insanity," said Gerald Treece, associate dean of South Texas College of Law, "is a person can be totally psychotic and still in that world they know right from wrong."
After deliberating for two hours, the Yates jury asked a single question: What is the definition of insanity? Soon thereafter, they had a verdict.
Yates stood trial for just three of the killings, a decision that leaves prosecutors the possibility of bringing her back to court if they think her punishment is too light.
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