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Andrea Yates case: Texas mother gets life in prison

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Editor's Note: As part of CNN.com's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from CourtTVNews.com. This story was first published in 2002.

(Court TV) -- A Texas mother convicted of capital murder in the drowning deaths of her five children will have the rest of her life to mull over her crime: a jury on Friday decided to spare her from the death penalty and sentence her to life in prison.

The panel of eight women and four men took less than 40 minutes to decide the fate of Andrea Yates, who drowned her children one by one in the family bathtub on June 20, 2001.

Flanked by her lawyers, Yates, 37, stood expressionless as the jury's decision was read. Her only visible reaction was the clenching and unclenching of her jaw.

To impose the death penalty, the jury had to decide unanimously that Yates was a future danger and that there were no mitigating circumstances against executing her. The jury answered no to the first question and therefore did not have to answer the second.

"Obviously, it could be worse if she was given the death penalty, but it wouldn't have been that much worse," her husband, Russell Yates, told reporters after the decision. Yates, who has stood by his wife, has blamed the medical community for not treating his wife's mental illness properly.

After less than four hours of deliberation on Tuesday, the same jury rejected the mother's claims that mental illness led her to kill her children and found her guilty of capital murder.

Under a life sentence, Yates will have to serve at least 40 years in prison before she is eligible for parole.

Yates was charged with two counts of capital murder for the drowning Noah, 7, John, 5, and Mary, 6 months, but did not stand trial for the deaths of her youngest boys, Luke, 3, and Paul, 2.

Yates had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and her lawyers argued that severe psychosis brought on by postpartum depression following the birth of her youngest child, Mary, led her to commit the killings. Yates, who now takes the anti-psychotic Haldol and is said to be in better mental health, was taken off medication two weeks before she killed the children.

Russell Yates told reporters that although he knew his wife was ill, he had no idea she would ever harm their children "You never think you have to protect somebody from the inside of your house," he said. "She's a victim not only of the medical community but of the justice system."

During the trial, Yates' lawyers argued that in her delusion, Yates believed that she was saving the children from Satan. Prosecutors acknowledge that Yates was sick but argued that she knew right from wrong and was thus not legally insane at the time of the killings.

Yates' lawyers called her mother, friends, and even a former prep school swim teammate to the stand to establish the mother as a stable individual who was only affected by her mental disorder.

On Thursday, Yates' mother begged for her daughter's life. "I'm here pleading for her life," said Jutta Karin Kennedy. "I've lost seven people in one year," referring to the loss of her husband, five grandchildren and the conviction of her daughter.

Yates' lawyers appealed to the jury's sense of compassion Friday in trying to save Yates from the death penalty.

Quoting 17th-Century English poet John Donne's work "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Yates' lawyer, George Parnham, told the jury their decision would affect all humanity.

"[The bell] tolls for all of us, but were are a part of this system and we are a part of mankind," he said.

If given a sentence of life, defense lawyer, Wendell Odom, Jr., told the jury, "[Yates] will live the rest of her life knowing what she has done."

Odom added that his client was anything but a cold-blooded killer. "She's not like some of these people that are animals, who have a violent tendency no matter what," Odom said.

The prosecution, however, contended that Yates planned and followed through on the murders despite the tortured cries of her children. Yates, they pointed out during the trial, even chased down 7-year-old, Noah, to drown him once she had finished killing the younger children.

"It's not just about Andrea Yates," assistant district attorney Williford said, holding an exhibit with the photos of the five slain children. "It's about Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary."

"This crime is a crime of the ultimate betrayal," Williford argued. "The ultimate betrayal of a mother of her children. Those children never had a chance." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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