CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Opening Statements In Andrea Yates Trial, Reactions
Aired February 18, 2002 - 11:54 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to show you, we are just starting to get our first picture out of the courtroom in Houston, Texas. His opening statements have not starte yet, but want to ask both of you, as these opening statements do get underway -- they are beginning. So let's go to this courtroom in Houston, Texas, and listen to opening statements in the murder trial of Andrea Yates.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JOSEPH OWNBY, PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: ...prior to that time, in an order you will hear from the witnesses, Luke, Paul and John had been drown one at a time. The breath was taken out of their bodies, by their mother, the defendant in this case, Andrea Pia Yates. Andrea Pia Yates has pleaded not guilty to indictments in the deaths of three of those children. She is presumed to be innocent until the state carries (ph) the burden of proof of proving that she is, beyond a reasonable doubt, guilty of the deaths of Noah, John and Mary Yates.
She is presumed to be sane to know right from wrong. The state bears no burden of proof to prove that she was sane.
At 9:48 on June 20th, in Houston, and there's one thing I think you can say without even hearing it from a witness, that it was hot. Because if you take any June 20th in any era in Houston, it's going to be hot. 9:48, Andrea Yates, called the dispatcher. And the way it works in the City of Houston is, the calls go to one center, and all that is asked, is do you want police, fire, ambulance.
On this morning, Sylvia Morris took that call, and Andrea Yates told them, she needed the police. Sylvia Morris routed that call to the 9-1-1 operator for the Houston Police Department, Doreen Stubblefield. And Doreen Stubblefield then took that call and began spoke to Andrea Yates about the problem.
Andrea Yates would not tell her why she needed the police. The dispatcher first dispatched the police, recognizing there is some problem and to continued to speak to Andrea Yates for a minute or so about why she needed the police. Andrea Yates said she was ill. She said, "the kids are here."
The dispatcher had on her mind that there might be some problem with this woman. It could have been anything. They are the 9-1-1 operators in the forth largest city in the United States. It could have been a burglar, she could have been hit -- been held hostage by a man. Someone in the house could have been bothering her. The dispatcher didn't know. She continued to investigate by talking to Andrea Yates, what that was. She kept her on the phone. She intended to keep her on the phone until the police arrived.
What could it be? Even suicide, hurting the kids, no one knows, but this dispatcher continued to do her job, until she hung up the phone because she couldn't get any further. Shortly after she hung up the phone, Officer Napp of the Houston Police Department arrived at the house, and Andrea Yates told him that she had killed all of her children.
He went to the back bedroom and saw in a bed, on a mattress on the floor, that was made up for a bed, those children laid out. Luke, John, -- Luke, Paul, John, Mary. Mary's head, cradled on John's arm. Luke was wearing a pajama outfit that had "fire department" on it. The child next to him, which the medical examiners, when they arrived, called "child two," had on a similar outfit with fire engines on it, kind of a motif like that.
John was wearing an oshkosh, zip up pajamas suit, and Mary had on a red outfit, the kind for infants that buttons between the legs.
What Officer Napp did not see and what Officer Stumpo (ph) saw as he proceeded to the back bedroom, when he arrived, was Noah, still in the bathtub with his arms extended, floating face-down, wearing an outfit with pajamas and insects on them.
Andrea Yates sat in a loveseat in the living room. The officers waited for, as they say, "backup" to arrive. The first person to arrive was Officer Sergeant Svahn. After a few moments, after he was briefed on the situation, he ordered that Andrea Yates be arrested for the murder of those children. And she was hand-cuffed and sat on the loveseat. In order, other officers began to arrive. Before long, the media was outside, and there were officers outside handling the media.
Officers King and Bacon arrived, the two detectives that was their duty to inherit this case, sort of by the luck of the draw. Sometimes they ask you, "how did you get here?" And the answer is, "it was my day to be there."
Officer King talked to Andrea Yates for a few moments. He will tell you that she was focused, she was only responding when spoken to. Officer King found, along with Officer West, who was the CSU Unit officer, and I will talk to him about a moment, but Officer King found several things that indicated to him there was a problem, if the fact that those five children weren't dead hadn't indicated there was a problem.
He found medications in the kitchen, Effexor, Remeran, Wellbutrin, Risperidol. Risperidol, you will hear, is an anti- psychotic medication. He found prescriptions from a Dr. Mohammed Saeed for those medications in the cabinets at the home. He found a note that there had been an appointment June 18th, 2001, for Andrea Yates with Dr. -- with Dr. Saeed. He found a note on the back of Dr. Saeed's card, with the indication June 26th, 2001, on that date June 20th, 2001, on the back of Dr. Saeed's card. They proceeded with their investigation. They asked Andrea Yates for a consent to search the house, and they searched the house. Her clothing was wet from head to toe. Her hair was matted, her clothing was wet. They acquired clothes from the bedroom for her to eventually change into. There was no female officer with them, so they formulated the plan to transport the dry clothes with her to the police station. Officer King talked to her with that few minutes. Officer Bacon continued the scene. The other officers were still there.
They began to take pictures. They took pictures of the hallway where Officer Napp had seen the small footprints when he came in. By this time, however, it's two hours later. And you won't see, in those pictures, those wet footprints that Officer Napp will tell you that he saw what he entered the house. The carpet was soaked, the water, it's still standing 9 inches, I believe, in the bathtub. The children, the four of them, still in those beds.
Officer West of the CSU Unit took a video throughout the house, to show the cereal bowls, on the table where those children had eaten that morning.
Officer Stumpo transported Andrea Yates to the Houston Police Department on Travis Street. She had been read her rights at the scene by Officer King the Miranda Rights. Told she had the opportunity to see a lawyer. Told she didn't have to speak, and the other rights that Officer King will explain to you. She was taken to the Houston Police Department. Officer Fredericklin (ph), a female officer changed -- accompanied her while she changed into dry clothes.
She met Sergeant Eric Mehl, and Officer Mehl asked her, did she need something to eat. She told him no, and he began to interview her. He interviewed her for a while, and then he stopped. And he left her under guard in a room. And he went to get his tape recorder, and he tape recorded, again, the interview and what she told him.
She told him that she wasn't mad at the children. That she killed them because they wern't developing correctly and she was a bad mother. She told them that she had been thinking about killing chil -- her children for two years.
She told him the order in which she had drowned these children. She told them that they struggled, "for a couple of minutes," as she described one child. She told him how she -- she called Noah into the bathroom and put him in the water with with Mary and drowned him. Then carried Mary and put Mary on the bed with the other three children that had -- she had already drowned.
She was focused on his questions, there is a period where, he will describe to you, where he asked her a question that amounted to "why you did do this," and there was a 15-second pause, and she did not answer.
After he tape recorded that statement, she was transported to an HPD facility on McPower Road (ph) by Off -- by Officer Stumpo, and during that ride, the -- Officer Stump had his radio on and the rants of the talk shows began to come on.
And he had a little moment of discussion with Andrea Yates about her new-found celebrity. He transferred her to McPower because the other facilities HPD usually uses, which are downtown and closer to the Harris County Jail, where she would eventually go, were flooded out and inoperable because of the flood. McPower Road is quite a ways from downtown Houston, but he transported her out there, where eventually the booking process with the Houston Police Department was completed and she was eventually booked into the Harris County Jail.
Andrea Yates told Eric Mehl that her husband was a good father, a good husband. She said he had left the home, and she killed the children in the hour from the time Dora Yates, her mother-in-law, was expected to arrive and the time that Rusty Yates, her husband, left for -- left for work. Between 9:00 and 10:00.
We will call Rusty Yates, Russell Yates, Andrea Yates' husband as a witness. I think Dora Yates will tell you that he has been supportive of his wife, and the State of Texas is not going to call Russell Yates to testify against his wife.
You will hear Officer Svahn say that Russell Yates arrived at the scene in an excited and upset condition. And told Officer Svahn that Andrea Yates told him that it was, "time to come home. I finally did it."
Dora Yates will tell you that Andrea Yates had seemed to be doing better. And why would she say that? Because she will also tell you that Andrea Yates had been in a facility -- a mental health treatment facility. That she had a history of mental illness, that Dora Yates had arrived in Houston around April the 19th to help with Mary. To help because Andrea Yates' father had died March -- in March, and she seemed to be getting depressed.
She was more than depressed. Some people call it clinical depression. You don't give out medications for Ephexor -- like Ephexor, you will hear, Wellbutrin and some of the other medications that they will mention because you're having a "little" depression. Those are prescribed medications. So there's no question that Andrea Yates had some form of mental illness.
Now I know none of you are familiar with this chart. Andrea Yates had a mental illness. She also called the police after she had killed these children. Andrea Yates had some type of mental illness. We anticipate that the defense will raise the affirmative defense of insanity, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong. She told Sergeant Mehl she needed to be punished, that she was going to Hell for what she would -- what she had done. She had a mental illness.
She planned to -- she told Officer Mehl that she did this killing while Russell Yates was away because he would stop her. We anticipate that the affirmative defense of mental illness -- the affirmative defense of insanity will be raised by the defense. We anticipate that you will hear a history of Andrea Yates' mental illness. We anticipate that there will be a more difficult tie showing that her conduct was wrong. We anticipate that you will be -- that you will hear that her motive altruistic, the children were not developing correctly, and she was a bad mother and needed to be punished.
That this is not a motive like robbery or theft. It is an altruistic motive, meaning that she thought it was right and good to do this to these children. That that was a right thing. You will also hear evidence that she knew it was an illegal thing. That it was a sin. That it was wrong. And that's what the insanity defense says. We anticipate that you may -- you don't see each and every page, but you will see thousands, perhaps, well, hundreds of pages of medical records.
Hundreds of pages of medical records would stand maybe that high, to show that Andrea Yates suffered a mental illness. Nurses, doctors, psychiatrists. We anticipate that you will hear about treatments that are effective, treatments that are not effective, and what should have been done, what could have been done, and whose fault this is.
What I read to you, before I started to speak, and I don't have very much more to say to you today, is called the indictment. What I did was present the indictment to the jury. You'll receive instructions on the law, eventually, at the end of the trial, but the indictment, presenting the inindictment to the jury, is the formal way that you are instructed on what the prosecution has to prove. And it's good that that is a part of the procedure.
We don't have to prove whose fault this is. We don't have to defend the mental health system of the United States of America. We do not have to agree or disagree whether postpartum depression is a problem. We know it's a problem. We do not have to advocate for this treatment or that treatment. The State of Texas has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and while Andrea Yates is presumed to be sane, that she murdered her children.
The medical examiners will testify to the bruises that were on these children from holding their heads under the water, the bruises that were on their legs, some of which appear to be old bruises, some of which could be new bruises from holding their legs, possibly, in an effort to keep them under the water. There will -- you'll see birth certificates proving that the children were born alive, because that's something that the state has to prove.
Andrea Yates is presumed -- presumed sane. The evidence to show that beyond a reasonable doubt she is guilty of the murder of Noah, John, and Mary Yates.
GEORGE PARNHAM, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: If it please the court. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, and as it has been some time since we've had a opportunity to come face-to-face, the moment for which you were selected has arrived. You will hear evidence during the presentation of this case on a number of issues. The question that we hope the evidence will answer is, "How does a mother who has given birth, who has nurtured, who has protected, and who has loved the five children that she brought into this world, interrupt their lives?"
How is the nature's act of birth, protection and love inverted to cause what happened on June the 20th, 19 -- pardon me -- of 2001. Now, the chart that was shown to you during jury selection and the same chart that Mr. Ownby showed you in his opening, is that well- acknowledged definition of insanity. You will hear, during the course of this case, evidence relative to the mind's eye of Andrea Pia Yates on June the 20th. You will hear evidence relative to mental disease and or defect and what the mind's eye of what Andrea Pia Yates thought and caused her to do on that day in question, on June the 20th.
And how do we hear that? You will hear testimony, during the course of this case, from various expert witnesses. You'll hear testimony concerning mental illness. You will hear testimony concerning a disease known as postpartum psychosis. Our experts will testify that postpartum psychosis usually involves delusions regarding the infant. That unless mother and child are properly treated, mother and child are at great risk for harm.
Frequently associated with major depression with psychotic features, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or schizo-affective disorder. Now I know that those terms are terms of medicine, and we expect that the psychiatrist that testifies during this trial will define those terms for you.
You will hear, from the stand, the definition of psychosis. And you will hear from the medically qualified experts that the symptom of psychosis is a symptom involving the loss of reality testing, including hallucinations, delusions and disorganized thought. The loss of reality testing, including delusions hallucination and disorganized thought.
The testimony in this case, will support the position that Andrea Pia Yates was, on June the 20th of 2001, suffering from a severe case of psychosis.
Postpartum depression with psychotic features, as will be testified to from the stand, is the cruelest and most severe of mental illnesses. It takes the very nature and essence motherhood to nurture, protect, to love and changes the reality. You'll hear that the mothering instincts are still there. The mother that is suffering from a delusion of psychotic proportions loves her child, wants to nurture her child, wants to protect her child. But you will hear that the cruelty of postpartum depression with psychotic features, takes the reality testing, that is, what is perceived as real through the eyes of the person that is suffering from psychosis, and turns it around.
You perceive danger where danger doesn't exist. You'll hear testimony during the course of this case, that on June the 20th, after she is interviewed by Detective Mehl while still, still psychotic, that she is taken up to the MHMRA ward on the third floor. In the early morning hours, that is 1:55 am on the 21st, she is administered medications, one of which is a medication known as Ativan.
One of the side affects of Ativan, and it's administered for the purposes of controlling agitation, is to loosen a person up. A person with Ativan will talk, will discuss thoughts, will discuss feelings that otherwise would never have been expressed without this particular medication. Now, that's one of the side effects. And you will hear, ladies and gentlemen of this jury, the delusions that Andrea Yates was suffering from on June the 20th.
Dr. Chrystal Ferguson will tell you that when she came to interview with Andrea Yates with her entire staff, in the early morning hours of June the 21st, that she came away with an absolute opinion, belief and understanding that this woman, on the scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most severe, that she was off the chart. She was one of the most ill -- mentally ill individuals that Dr. Ferguson, during the years that she has administered to mentally ill individuals, has ever seen.
She will tell you that, in her opinion, Andrea Yates was suffering from this same psychosis at the time that she interviewed Detective Mehl and at the time that the children were drowned. Our experts will tell you that the psychosis and the delusions that caused a loving mother to do what occurred on the 20th of June, was so severe, that it was so long standing, that Andrea Yates' ability to think in abstract terms, to give narrative responses, to be able to connect the dots, was impaired.
You will hear about delusions that Andrea Yates suffered prior to June the 20th of 2001. You will hear a mental history that includes a number of -- two specific suicide attempts. In June, or in the summer of 1999, Andrea Yates, is hospitalized, in Ben Taub Hospital for an attempted suicide.
Ahe and her husband, Rusty, were living in a converted greyhound bus, a bus that had been purchased from a minister in -- from the state of Oregon, that the family ascribed to and were active in religious processes and thoughts of this particular individual. That Andrea called Rusty at work and begged him to come home. While they were living in the bus at that time, there were four children, two of whom had been born on the bus or while they were living in the bus. That Rusty comes home. Andrea indicates to Rusty she is having a nervous breakdown. Rusty takes her for a walk in Galveston, takes her back and moves her in with her parents. And the next day, Andrea overdoses on her father's medication.
She is then transmitted to Ben Taub Hospital. She is seen by a doctor by the name of James Black (ph), a psychiatrist at Methodist Hospital, after she was transferred from Ben Taub to Methodist. Dr. Black will tell you that, in viewing Andrea Yates, that everything that he saw, in that brief period of time, there was nothing that he found that was inconsistent with psychosis. Inconsistent with psychosis on the first hospital stay.
He refers her to a doctor, a psychiatrist by the name of Eileen Starbranch. Dr. Starbranch will tell you that she talked with Rusty Yates, in obtaining information about Andrea's mental history. She talked with Rusty Yates about attempting to obtain information relative to Andrea's family history, in order to be able to document what type of mental processes this woman was going through.
After she is discharged from Methodist Hospital, Andrea Yates goes on outpatient. She has another moment of an attempt to take her own life. At that time, some 3 weeks after her discharge, her husband, Rusty, comes home and Andrea has a knife to her throat. She's in the bathroom, and she's staring at the mirror, and Rusty has to wrestle the knife away from her to avoid her taking her own life. To avoid her hurting herself.
She then is taken to Springshadow's Glen, and she is interviewed by a psychologist by the name of Dr. Thompson. Dr. Gary Thompson will testify from the stand, and Dr. Thompson will tell you that the battery of tests that he gave led up to a recommendation for electric cardiogram -- not electric cardiogram, electric shock therapy. That the electric shock therapy is the most severe level of mental repair, so to speak, or methods available. Dr. Thompson will tell you that he has treated over 10,000 patients in his career, and it is so severe and Andrea Yates' mental condition was so severe that of the 10,000 people, only approximately 7, 7 to 10 have ever received a recommendation from Dr. -- Dr. Thompson.
Dr. Starbranch will tell you that when she saw Andrea Yates, that she was catatonic. She was not eating. She was severely depressed. She was obviously suffering from psychosis. She was suffering from a delusion and beliefs that were so -- that were not based in reality. And that, as a result, Dr. Starbranch put her on Haladol, an anti- psychotic medication. Dr. Starbranch will tell you that in 31 years of practice -- I believe it's 31 -- that Andrea Yates was, without question, one of the most severely ill, with postpartum depression with psychotic features, patients that she has ever treated -- ever treated.
Andrea Pia Yates is given, when she leaves, an injection called, for want of a better phrase, a drug cocktail. It includes Haladol, the anti-psychotic, and Ativan, the same Ativan that Dr. Ferguson prescribed on the third floor, on the early morning hours of June the 21st. Dr. Starbranch administered this particular shot. Andrea gets better. Andrea and Rusty conceive Mary. Mary is born. Andrea begins to get depressed. Andrea's progression in depression in the early months of 2001 continues to proceed and spiral downward. Andrea is homeschooling at that time. She's working with two, if not three, of her youngsters, and, despite the depression, you will see glimpses into their family life.
That Andrea Pia Yates is the most loving of mothers. That Andrea Pia Yates helps those children in such tasks, in homeschooling, making costumes. Crusader costumes to learn history in. That she participates in birthdays. That she participates in Valentine's Day. THat she does the things that one would expect of the atypical mother. But she is severly becoming, again, depressed on -- prior to -- her father becomes ill. Andrea's continuing to homeschool. Her father passes away, and that is the last entry in the homeschool records, is the day that Andrea Pia Yates' father dies.
You'll hear testimony that she believed that she was responsible for his death. Andrea Yates, at one point, goes into a hospital known as Devereaux. The first entry into Devereaux is on April the 21st, of --pardon me -- April the 31st of 2001. And you'll hear that Devereaux is a psychiatric facility down in the Clear Lake area, that specializes in drug rehab and the psychiatric affects of substance abuse.
You will find that -- and you will hear from the evidence that, Rusty, her husband when he realizes that she had deteriorated so greatly, tries to reach Dr. Starbranch and -- for the purposes of obtaining Haldol. By that time, she's not on Hhaldol, but we know that Haldol works. The contact is made. Requests by Dr. Starbranch for having Rusty to bring Andrea back into the facility at Springshadows Glen that friday. There were some conflicts with scheduling and Rusty indicated that he could not take her into Springshadows Glen, however would go to the next facility.
She goes into Devereaux. Dr. Eileen Albritton (ph), admitted -- admits her into the Devereaux facility. Dr. Albritton will tell you that she wrote on the back of a chart, to vent her anger, how could a woman that would be so severely mentally ill, not be hospitalized at that very moment. A decision and a determination is made that if she will not cooperate and go voluntarily into commitment, that she is going to be committed by order of the court, into the Austin State Hospital.
Andrea's not cooperating, because she can't cooperate. It is not that she doesn't, she can't. She's catatonic, she's lost weight, she doesn't eat. She's admitted to Devereauz Hospital. She is spoon fed, spoon-fed Ensure, because she will not eat, cannot eat, because of the severe psychosis that she is experiencing. And her husband spoon feeds, spoonfuls of Ensure to her during this stay.
Dr. Saeed sees her. Dr. Saeed, her physician on June the 18th, does not contact Dr. Starbranch. There is no communication relative to prior conditions or prior opinions of mental illness. Dr. Starbranch does not communicate with Dr. Saeed. Dr. Saeed puts her on an anti-psychotic that is called Respitol, allows her to leave towards the end of -- end of March. Pardon me, April the 14th. She is out for little bit over a month. She is at home. She fills the bathtub -- Dora is upset about that -- waits until Rusty gets home. Rusty takes her back into the Devereaux facility.
And Dr. -- Dr. Saeed, who is her physician, describes her as catatonic, not able to talk, not able to narrate, not able to give proper answers. She stays in the Devereaux facility. Is discharged on May the 14th, by Dr. Saeed. And on June the 4th, she is taken off of anti-psychotic medications. All anti-psychotic medications have eliminated from her body by June the 7th or 8th. And on June the 20th, the inevitable happens.
Now, an example of reality testing and the impact of reality testing and the reality of the delusion. On the time prior to her admission in the second Devereaux visit, when she fills the bathtub, you will hear -- you will hear expert witnesses, based on interviews with Andrea Yates, tell you at the time that this incident occurred, that the delusion was that the water company was going to shut off their water. That they would have not a facility for water. Not that there was a thought at the time that this occurred, of doing anything as far as the children were concerned. But the delusion was because she and her husband and her husband's brother had walked down the street and had seen a water tower being repaired. The delusion causes Andrea to believe that she is going to have a water problem. So while Dora Yates is at the house, Andrea fills the bathtub.
You will hear, ladies and gentlemen of this jury, from experts. You'll hear from Doctors Ferguson, Dr. Osterman, Dr. Philip Resnick, Dr. Lucy Perier, and Dr. George Ringholdst (ph). Dr. Ringholdst is the chair person of the neurology department -- strike that -- psychoneurology department at Baylor College of Medicine.
Dr. Ringholdst has tested Andrea Yates for days and weeks with every available test at his command. He will tell this jury that, among other things, that in his opinion, she not only did not know on June the 20th what she was doing was wrong but believed it was right. It was the right thing to do. And you will hear about that delusion from the mouth of Dr. Ferguson when she testifies.
You'll hear from Lucy Perier. Dr. Perier is renowned in women's mental health. Dr. Perier was the first to establish the Women's Behavioral Mental Health Clinic in this community. She has treated thousands of women with postpartum problems, with psychosis problems and with schizophrenia problems. She will tell you that, without question in her mind, on June the 20th, Andrea Pia Yates was not able to render a determination of wrongfulness. That she did not appreciate the wrongfulness of her act and believed it to be right. And you'll hear that delusion from the mouth of Dr. Ferguson.
You will hear from Dr. Phillip Resnick, who specializes in, believe it or not, the area of infanticide. He has examined Andrea and he will tell this jury that, in his opinion, she did not appreciate the wrongfulness of her acts on June the 20th of 2001. You will hear that on June the 20th, that Andrea Yates, had zero anti- psychotic medication in her system. There was none. She had been taken off of anti-psychotic drugs, and you will hear the reasons why by Dr. Saeed on the 20th -- actually took her of on the 4th of -- of June.
And as she sits here today, she is taking a daily dosage of 15 milligrams of Haldol and has been for months. And you'll hear that the reason for that, is to prevent her from slipping into psychosis. I look forward to presenting the defense case to you. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All rise for the jury, please.
(LEFT IN PROGRESS)
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at the outset of this trial. It is going to be very difficult to digest the testimony and the evidence after such a tragedy in June of last year. We will hear the opening statements today on television. You just saw those live here on Cnn. We will also pick up the closing arguments as well, when they come, when that day comes. In between time, though, we will not be bringing this broadcast to you from Houston, Texas. But opening statements are now in, and we have two -- two attorneys to take us through a lot of this.
Cynthia Alksne is a former prosecutor. She's with us live today. Cynthia you've been listening. Good afternoon, again, to you. Robert Gordon is an attorney and a psychologist. He's with us as well. And I think, just to boil all this down quickly, it appears quite obvious that the prosecution is goint to say, "we as a state do not have the burden right now to show she that was insane, you have to say that."
ROBERT GORDON, ATTORNEY: Okay.
HEMMER: "You have to prove that, at this point." And the defense is going to come out and say, basically, "yes, in fact she was," and for a number of reasons, Cynthia.
CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Exactly that. You'll notice that the prosecution's opening statement began with "the day of the murder." It's about the murder, the planning of the murder, the murders, and what she said afterwards that indicates she knew the difference between right and wrong. And, of course, the prosecutor spent his early time making sure that the jury understood it wasn't his burden to prove that she was sane.
On the other hand, the defense opening statement wants to -- the idea was to frame the case completely differently. It's not about the murder. It's "what could bring a mother to kill her own children?" And that's their theme. They want the jury to look at it very differently. And the defense attorney did that by going through her mental health records in great detail, which was not dealt with by the prosecution and also giving us a little tease.
You notice he said, "she was under delusion on that day, what she was doing she thought was right," but he didn't tell you exactly the delusion, He didn't give the specifics of that, because he wants the jury to wait and make up their mind until the defense experts are on the stand. And he's trying to peak their interests and keep their mind open. It was a good -- it was a good technique, and we will see if it works.
HEMMER: What about what George Parnham said at the end when he said that the evidence will show that Andrea Yates had zero medication in her body the morning of the 20th of June? How will that play?
ALKSNE: Well, of course, what he's trying to do is say, this woman was so incredibly sick, and that it is the doctor's fault who took her off the medication. And when he sets up everything that happened afterwards, he wants to be able to say, she had no medication and then juxtapose that with all of the times she spent comatose and all the time the doctors were determinations about her when she was premedication. So he's trying to equate those, and I think he did it pretty effectively.
HEMMER: We're going to hear a lot about these intervies conducted police and investigators shortly after, actually, on the day of the 20th and shortly thereafter.
ALKSNE: Yes. The important...
HEMMER: The -- go ahead.
ALKSNE: Excuse me. I was just going to say that one of the important things that was not in the defense opening statements was they really didn't deal with her statements, which appeared to be somewhat rational. "I waited for my husband to leave because I knew he would stop me. I wanted to get it done before my mother-in-law arrived. I planned the murder. I should be punished. I know it's a sin. Those types of statements. He didn't deal with that in the opening statements. And it was a problem in his opening statement.
HEMMER: The previous question asked about not being on medication, does that help -- help the defense argument that indeed she was not in a fair state of mind at that point?
ALKSNE: Sure. I think it helps them. The question is whether or not it helps them with the decision about whether or not she is guilty or not guilty or whether or not it helps them with the decision of whether or not she should receive the death penalty or not.
HEMMER: Tough stuff to listen to, I'll tell you that. Robert Gordon is with us live in Dallas. I think we have our connection now.
HEMMER: Robert, good afternoon to you.
GORDON: Good afternoon.
HEMMER: First, your take -- we just heard from Cynthia -- on what you heard in the opening statements in the past 50 minutes time.
GORDON: I thought that Joe Ownby was excellent. He personalized the children by calling them by name. He also talked about her oral confession, which means a great deal to all of us in terms of our values and ethics. He seemed to have due regard for her rights as a criminal defendant and suggested that she was treated with respect as a woman.
On the other hand, I thought Joe missed an opportunity to dramatize that she was capable of understanding the difference between right and wrong when she behaved as she did. He seemed to be more concerned with the presumption that she was sane than his capacity to demonstrate that, in fact, she was psychopathic, sociopathic and and understood right from wrong.
HEMMER: Robert, listen, as a doctor, address this, and it was said by George Parnham right at the beginning, "we're going to show you how nature's act of love can be inverted to cause the events of June 2001."
GORDON: Yes, my own view is that that was ludicrous. The idea that it was said that this was the cruelest and most severe form of mental illness. That clearly isn't so. At the same time, I thought George Parnham was excellent in sensitising the jurors to the foundation of mental illness and to raising this factor that, in fact, anyone who would harm her children had to be crazy. You know, Bill, all of us want to believe that she's mentally ill in that sense, but, at the same time, we want everyone to be accountable and responsible for the consequences of their behavior.
HEMMER: I want to get back to Cynthia in a moment here, Robert. First, before I leave you, being a psychologist here, I want to put up on the screen the make-up of the jury here. 8 women, 4 men, I know you've been asked about this throughout the morning earlier here today. But I'm wondering from a psychology standpoint, how does it impact, the genders here, men and women, in a case like this?
GORDON: My own view, and Cynthia seemed to agree earlier, as well, that women tend to be more severe on other women. I think all of us will be sympathetic to the clinical postpartum depression and will appreciate that it could have psychotic features. Nevertheless, all women believe that a mother should be a good mother and responsible and accountable for the care and welfare of her children.
HEMMER: Cynthia, we're running out of time here. Before we're running up against the commercial break here, but quickly. Do we have much legal history for cases like these with postpartum psychosis?
ALKSNE: Not like this one. But we do -- we certainly have cases where it appears that whatever the person did, they must be completely crazy, and, in the end, the jury decides that they know the difference between right and wrong, even though they have a major illness.
For instance, remember the guy who cannibalized all those people? And the jury found that he knew the difference between right and wrong.
HEMMER: Cynthia, thanks. Robert, thanks. We'll be talking again, I am certain, down the road very soon.
GORDON: Thank you, Bill.
HEMMER: Also for our viewers, Russell Yates has set up a web site in memory of his five children, yateskids.org, features photos of the young kids, clips of home movies and information on contributing to the Andrea Yates Defense Fund, more than 75,000 people, so far, have visited the site since November, and among them, Andrea Yates herself.
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