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Deputy: Yates knew killings were wrong

Deputy Michael Stephens
Stephens testified he heard Yates tell the psychiatrist, "'I knew what I did was wrong.'"  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- A sheriff's deputy testified Saturday he heard Andrea Yates tell a jail psychiatrist that she knew she was wrong when she drowned her five children last June.

According to the deputy, Yates told the doctor, "'I didn't mean to hurt them. I'm so stupid. I'm such a monster.'"

Deputy Michael Stephens of the Harris County Sheriff's Department testified he overheard Dr. Melissa Ferguson's conversation with Yates on June 21, one day after the killings.

Ferguson testified for the defense earlier in the trial that Yates was "one of the sickest patients" she had ever seen and exhibited extreme signs of paranoia and delusions. Ferguson testified she believed Yates could not have known right from wrong.

Defense lawyers questioned the deputy's testimony from the outset, challenging his accuracy and motive because he did not write down his recollections until after he was contacted by prosecutors on February 13.

Stephens said Ferguson asked Yates if she knew what she did was wrong.

A prosecution psychiatrist says Andrea Yates knew what she was doing when she methodically drowned her five children (March 8)

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According to the deputy, Yates responded, "'Yes. I knew what I did was wrong.'"

The issue of Yates' ability to differentiate right from wrong is crucial to the capital murder case. Under Texas law, if jurors believe Yates could tell the difference, they cannot find her legally insane.

The prosecution contends Yates knew killing her children was wrong and that the acts were premeditated. The defense argues that the mother of five was insane.

The Houston area mother is being tried on two counts of capital murder, one covering the deaths of Noah, 7, and John, 5, and the other covering the death of Mary, 6 months. She is not on trial for the drownings of Luke, 3, and Paul, 2.

The two capital murder charges were based on provisions in Texas statutes. One charge covers the intentional deaths of two people in the same event or scheme; the other covers the death of a child under 6.

Expert: Drowned children 'fought hard'

Defense attorneys grilled Stephens about the eight-month lapse between the interview and the five pages of notes he wrote earlier this month. The lawyers also challenged Stephens about his testimony regarding Yates' comments about her husband, Russell Yates.

According to Stephens, Yates told Ferguson that she killed Mary because "'Russell didn't want another girl. He wanted another boy, for a basketball team.'"

The Saturday session of the trial opened with testimony from Dr. Harry Wilson, an El Paso pediatric psychologist.

Wilson described what happens to a child when he or she drowns, saying it usually takes three minutes to lose consciousness and the ability to fight back.

"Each of these children did not want to die," he said. "They fought hard. They struggled."

Following an afternoon break, the court heard from Dr. Park Dietz, a key prosecution witness who has already testified Yates knew that drowning her five children was illegal and wrong in the eyes of God and society.

Dietz testified Friday that Yates was depressed, dysfunctional and schizophrenic, but she still knew right from wrong.

The court will be back in session Monday morning, at which time the defense plans to call rebuttal witnesses.

-- CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.




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