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Andrea Yates case: Witness at heart of appeal explains error

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Editor's Note: As part of's new Crime section, we are archiving some of the most interesting content from This story was first published in 2005.

(Court TV) -- The witness at the heart of Andrea Yates' successful appeal for drowning her five children said in a statement released Friday that he simply made an honest mistake -- one he tried to clear up before the Texas mother's trial ended.

Dr. Park Dietz, a California psychiatrist who also worked as a consultant for "Law & Order," had testified as a prosecution witness during Yates' capital murder trial about an episode of the popular NBC crime drama that bore striking similarities to Yates' case and supposedly ran before the drownings.

The problem: No such episode existed.

During Yates' trial, prosecutors solicited testimony that Yates avidly watched the show, suggesting she could have copied the idea. The jury later rejected Yates' insanity defense.

"Shocked at the possibility of having made a factual error, even one unrelated to Mrs. Yates, I immediately researched the issue, with help from the writers and producers of 'Law & Order,' and within hours determined that my recollection was probably incorrect," Dietz said in the statement.

Dietz also said that he offered to return to Houston at his own expense to correct the error. He made the offer to prosecutors, he said, in a letter that detailed what he "believed was the source of my confusion."

In the letter, dated March 14, 2002, addressed to prosecutors and furnished to Court TV by Dietz, the doctor states he erroneously meshed two different Law & Order episodes, leading to his inaccurate answer on the stand during cross-examination.

One episode was based in part on Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who killed her two young sons by driving her car into a lake with them strapped inside. Instead of drowning, the cause of death was suffocation. The 1995 episode was rerun approximately five months before the June 20, 2001, drownings.

The other episode dealt with a young woman whose secret pregnancy resulted in the baby's death, similar to the cases of "Prom Mom" Melissa Drexler and Amy Grossberg, both teens charged with discarding newborn babies. That episode aired about three weeks before the Yates deaths.

His letter, which he says he sent to prosecutors via e-mail, was never introduced into evidence.

In its decision overturning the conviction, the Court of Appeals concluded "there is a reasonable likelihood that Dr. Dietz's false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury."

Dietz fired back, however. "In short, I made an honest mistake and took immediate action to correct it," he said. "I am angry that a false accusation by a defense lawyer has been so widely promulgated in the press."

Dietz has worked on many high-profile cases, including those of Smith, Grossberg and Drexler, as well as Jeffrey Dahmer, Deanna Laney and "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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