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Whatever her fate, Andrea Yates to face it alone

Andrea Yates as she listened to the jury foreperson deliver the verdict.  

By Christy Oglesby

(CNN) -- No matter what a Texas jury elects to do with Andrea Yates, she will be in solitary confinement.

If the eight women and four men send the convicted child murderer to prison for life, she will be alone. If the panel determines that she should die by lethal injection, she will wait on death row alone.

In a cell measuring 14-by-6 feet, Yates will spend 23 hours a day asleep or awake, receiving meals passed beneath metal bars or pushed through a slit in a metal door to eat in solitude.

"It's called administrative segregation," said Larry Todd, public information officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the prisons in Texas. "She gets one hour to recreate." That hour will not be shared with other inmates, and the weather determines if the 60-minute respite from her cell happens beneath sunny skies or within cavernous concrete.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer discusses the Andrea Yates murder trial with two former federal prosecutors and a defense attorney (March 12)

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A jury rejected Yates' insanity claims and found her guilty Tuesday of the capital murder of three of her five children that she admitted drowning in June 2001. The jury convicted Yates in the deaths of Noah, 7, John, 5, and Mary, 6 months. She was not on trial for drowning the other two, Luke, 3, and Paul, 2.

On Thursday, jurors will begin hearing testimony during the penalty phase of the trial before making a determination about Yates' sentence.

All females on death row are housed at Texas' air-conditioned Mountain View unit, which really offers a glimpse of a hill, Todd said. There are 12 death row cells there, and all are single-person rooms. There are eight women on death row in Texas. Two of them killed two children of their own, and the third killed the 3-month-old she was babysitting. The average length a prisoner spends on death row in Texas is 10-and-a-half years at a cost to the taxpayers of $53.15 a day.

Inmates serving life sentences go to maximum-security prisons.

"If she gets life, she will still be in a single cell because she is a high-profile case," Todd said. An inmate's classification -- minimum, medium, maximum -- is based on his or her flight risk, demeanor and psychological fitness. And the classification determines whether they are ever housed with another person, Todd said.

Normally there is a 45-day observation and evaluation period allotted to determine classification, Todd said. But even after that period, Yates will likely remain alone. "In this case, it will be a matter of years," he said, before her administrative segregation status will change.

When they are in administrative segregation, inmates do not work. If classification changes, they may perform agricultural duties, waking at 3:30 a.m. during warmer months and heading to fields to chop weeds. Regardless of the facility, meals are at 4:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 3:45 p.m. It's lights out at 10 p.m.

As for medical and mental health care, "She'll get the same medical treatment she received in the free world," Todd said. "We have psychologists and a psychiatrist to determine her treatment. The classification people will look over her medical, dental and psychological profiles."

Yates "will be treated as fairly and equitably as possible, just like any other inmate," Todd said. "It is our job to keep her safe and keep our staff safe."




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