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Yates sentenced to life in prison

Andrea Yates, center, looks at attorney Wendell Odom Friday as she learns of the life in prison sentence  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- A Texas jury spent less than an hour deliberating before sentencing Andrea Yates to life in prison Friday for the drowning deaths of her five children. She will be eligible for parole in 40 years.

The same eight women and four men who found the Houston mother guilty of capital murder in the bathtub drowning of her children took only 40 minutes to decide her fate.

"It could be worse if she'd been given the death penalty, but it wouldn't have been that much worse," Yates' husband Russell said outside the courthouse.

He accused the court system of victimizing his wife after the medical community had mistreated her by not recognizing how sick she was and not giving her the right treatment.

As Andrea Yates was led from the courtroom by officers, she looked back toward her mother and siblings.

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Watch as Judge Belinda Hill reads the sentence for Andrea Yates (March 15)

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Russell Yates, husband of Andrea Yates, says his family sought medical help for his wife prior to her killing their children (March 15)

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Husband blames others for wife's actions 
Yates writes letter about her children 
Andrea Yates sentencing reaction 
In-depth: The Case of Andrea Yates 

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Yates, 37, was convicted earlier this week on two counts of capital murder for the drowning of her 6-month-old daughter, Mary, and her sons Noah, 7 and John, 5. The charges did not cover the deaths of her two other children, Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.

"We took no pleasure in prosecuting Mrs. Yates, and we take no joy in this result or any result that may have occurred," said prosecutor Joseph Owmby.

"In a perfect world, the Yates children would be alive and thriving in the midst of a loving family," Owmby said. "But in this imperfect world, the best we could do was to see that justice was done for them as victims of a horrendous crime. Justice was done today."

During closing arguments earlier Friday, prosecutor Kaylynn Williford told jurors, "This crime is a crime of the ultimate betrayal -- the betrayal of a mother to her children." But Williford, who displayed photographs of the five children for the jury, said several times during her argument that "the state would accept what you decide."

To impose the death penalty under Texas law, a jury must 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.

Defense attorneys Wendell Odom and George Parnham told the jury there was no evidence that Yates would pose any future danger, and that her mental illness was severe enough to mitigate her crime.

"She poses no problem, she is no danger in the structured environment she will be in," Odom said. "You cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that she poses a future danger of violence, because she's not."

Parnham told the jury that the substance of a motion for mistrial -- denied Friday morning by Hill -- was grounds to cast some doubt on the prosecution's case.

The defense contended that Dr. Park Dietz, a UCLA psychiatrist who has consulted on several high-profile cases, lied when he testified that Yates may have been inspired to kill her children by an episode of the NBC television show "Law and Order" in which a mother drowns her children and is acquitted on an insanity defense. Dietz has worked as a consultant on the show.

The defense attorneys said they had contacted the show's producers and learned that an episode such as the one described by Dietz never aired.

George Parnham, defense attorney  

If she killed her children "as a result of following a blueprint laid out on 'Law and Order' ... it didn't happen guys. That show never existed," Parnham said.

The difference between a verdict of guilty and one of not guilty by reason of insanity in the Yates trial hinged on one key issue: whether Yates knew what she was doing when she drowned the children was wrong.

Both the defense and prosecution agreed Yates is mentally ill, but prosecutors convinced the jury that she was aware that what she was doing was wrong.

On Thursday, defense attorneys called Yates' family, friends and a psychiatrist to testify in an attempt to save her life. The prosecution presented no opening statement or witnesses in the penalty phase.

The sentencing capped a month of emotional testimony and arguments by attorneys, prosecutors and nearly 40 witnesses.

The defendant's husband, Russell Yates, who has steadfastly supported his wife, testified as the seventh defense witness and spent only three minutes on the stand.

"She was a wonderful mother," he said, and then offered up an anecdote to illustrate his point.

"I remember little Paul," Yates said in a reference to the couple's 3-year-old son. "He had a boo-boo. Andrea put a Band-aid on it. It wasn't even a cut, but she was very loving."

Karin Kennedy, Andrea's mother, said of her daughter: "She was the best mother ... I am here pleading for her life. I've just lost seven people in a year" -- a reference to her five grandchildren, late husband and Andrea.

The case stirred new debate over the legal standard for mental illness and whether postpartum depression is properly recognized and taken seriously. Women's groups had harshly criticized prosecutors for pushing for the death penalty.

The defense called an expert on postpartum depression in an effort to show that Yates poses no danger to society.

"Her symptoms were triggered by the birth of her children," said Dr. Lucy Puryear, a forensic psychiatrist. "If she has no more children and stays on her medication, her symptoms will remain under control."




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