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Andrea Yates Brought into Houston Courtroom This Morning for Arraignment

Aired August 8, 2001 - 10:34   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Houston, Texas now, where our Ed Lavandera is standing by at the arraignment hearing for Andrea Yates, the woman who killed her five children -- who is alleged to have killed her five children, and it just ended.

And Ed Lavandera was inside there, and comes out now to report for us -- Ed.


A couple headlines coming out of the courtroom this morning. The arraignment hearing lasted about 30 minutes. Russell Yates just walked out. Andrea Yates was brought into a Houston courtroom this morning. And the two issues, the main issues of the morning were, this is where Andrea Yates could enter a plea in the case, and of course indicted on capital murder charges for the deaths of three of her children. Two of the children still have indictment charges, haven't been filed on that.

She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Her attorney, George Parnham, spoke on her behalf. Andrea Yates never spoke in this morning's hearing. Her husband, Russell Yates, was here, along with his mother. Andrea Yates never looked over at her husband.

Also the defense has requested -- starting filing paperwork about a month ago, requesting a competency hearing, and they want a Houston jury to determine whether or not Andrea Yates should stand -- is competent enough to go to trial for this. So in the next couple of weeks, a court date will be set. That will be decided by a jury.

So in essence, what should happen over the next couple of months is that first, a jury will have to determine if Andrea Yates is able or competent enough to stand trial for the murders of her five children. And if a jury decides that she is, and then go to another jury trial, and that would be the criminal case. And then Andrea Yates in that case has already filed -- mentioned that she has -- she is determined that she wanted to plea not guilty by reason of insanity.

Now, of course, over the next couple of months, there will also be a lot of haggling over expert witnesses and medical witnesses. She has undergone a series of psychiatric evaluations, and one of those psychiatric evaluations was filed earlier this week in court. Of course, her attorneys arguing that the doctor has found enough evidence to say that, since these murders, Andrea Yates has been in a psychotic state, unable to communicate effectively with her attorneys, and therefore, she has, in essence, really has no idea what's going on. Prosecution is arguing that that same report actually says that she only suffers from a serious -- from serious mental disorders, and that shouldn't keep her from facing a criminal jury in this case.

Andrea Yates is going back to Harris County jail cell under the watch of psychiatric doctors since she has been in custody.

I am sorry, go ahead.

HARRIS: I'm sorry to interrupt you, Ed, but I want to let the folks know, as you're talking, what they're watching right now is the videotape that was taken inside the courtroom moments ago, and the shots that I am seeing right now, Ed, and I don't know if you have a monitor, if you can see them, but these obviously happened, are shots that were taken before the hearing, because there you see Russell Yates, her husband, there, and the judge's bench -- the seat rather, is still empty, and then a few moments ago, I think we saw Andrea Yates' mother. Was she in there? Because I heard a report earlier this morning the mother that the mother of Andrea Yates was saying that she was going to try to meet with Andrea before this hearing today? Do you know whether or not that happened, Ed?

LAVANDERA: Not exactly sure. There were a couple of days out of the week where visitation was allowed with the inmates here in the Harris County jail. The woman who was inside the courtroom this morning with Russell Yates was his mother, not hers. And, in fact, usually, we have seen Andrea Yates' brothers have tended to show up a lot at these court hearings, and also at the jail cell. He was -- her brothers were not here with him this morning.

HARRIS: Got you. So the pictures we're seeing are actually of the mother-in-law of the accused.


HARRIS: Can you give us any idea of how many other members of the family were there?

LAVANDERA: Just two this morning from as far as we can tell. The first bench in the courtroom was reserved for family members and those close to the case, and those were the only two people sitting in the courtroom. The rest of the courtroom was filled with news reporters from the area here, and as well as national media.

HARRIS: OK, we would like to see and hold on and to see if we can watch the tape and to see Andrea Yates enter the courtroom, and maybe we can zip through this tape.

Let me ask you, Ed, about what actually happened there in the courtroom. You say that she did formally enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. We were talking with someone who is quite familiar with the court system there in Texas earlier this hour, and he saying that he did not expect a formal plea to be entered at this particular point. Did the prosecution express any surprise at it, about Andrea Yates actually entering that plea today?

LAVANDERA: They did not express a whole lot of surprise. What they did request, though, later on in this hearing, was that they requested that all the names of the doctors who've evaluated Andrea Yates since she has been arrested, that all of the evidence be turned over to them so that they can look at that. They've also requested that their own expert be allowed to interview Andrea Yates in the coming weeks, so that they can be ready, not only for the competency hearing, but as well for the criminal trial, because quite frankly, even George Parnham, Andrea Yates' attorney, has announced to us that he fully expects that this case will probably head to a criminal jury trial.

HARRIS: All right, as you speak now, we see the gentlemen who is the Harris County prosecutor in this case who just entered the courtroom, and I am sorry, but his name escapes me at this particular point.


HARRIS: Thank you very much. Joe Owmby there.

Can you give us any idea what the process is going to be for this competency hearing that takes is going to take place? Now will that be decided by a jury or by a judge alone?

LAVANDERA: No, by a jury. They will have to, as far as I understand it -- and we're still trying to clear up a lot of this information as well, and of course, Leon it's also very difficult because there is a gag order in this case, so the flow of information is very tight.

But as far as I was able to gather from being inside of the courtroom this morning, that a jury will decide, and it almost be just like a regular trial. They will have to present their medical evidence and evidence from the investigation, and present that to a jury, and then that jury would determine whether or not Andrea Yates is competent enough to stand trial. And then after that, if that jury decides that Andrea Yates is able to stand trial, then the whole process would have to start over.

HARRIS: All right, as you talk now, we're now seeing what I believe is her defense council who has actually entered the courtroom there, and again, folks, we're still watching this videotape as it's being fed into us right now live. We don't have any control over it, so we can't just zip through it to show you Andrea Yates.

But as we wait to see her, Ed, can you give us a preview? What did she look like when you saw her?

LAVANDERA: Leon, let me mention also, as Andrea Yates was brought into -- it was orchestrated very well. You know, I think that it's fair to say that George Parnham, Andrea Yates' attorney, want to just make that sure that everything was properly orchestrated. And of course when the vast majority of people in the courtroom are reporters, this is also a very intense media attention to the story, and it's hard to -- it's a very small courtroom, and so it's very hard to get great pictures of Andrea Yates in this morning. And one other thing to mention as well, is that the judge only allowed video of this court proceeding, allowed no audio. So you won't be able to hear anything about what happened this morning, based on what we are able to tell you about sitting in there.

HARRIS: Good deal, Ed. We're going to just let this tape -- we're going to feed this tape in and take a look at it ourselves and let you get back to reporting.

Thanks very much. Ed Lavandera reporting to us live from Houston. Good job. We'll talk to you later on.



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