A second chance for Andrea Yates

But is it mercy toward women with mental illness that has given her the possibility of avoiding prison?

Published November 9, 2005 8:34PM (EST)

Andrew Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five small children, will likely receive a new trial. According to CNN, on Wednesday the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a lower court's decision that had overturned Yates' murder convictions.

Reacting to the news, Yates' attorney George Parnham said: "The whole issue of mental health, specifically women's mental health, has been championed in this decision." Parnham will try to have Yates sent to a mental health facility, instead of to prison. She is currently being treated for severe postpartum depression, and she has a history of the disease. Her defense: she was suffering from postpartum psychosis at the time of her children's deaths.

But wait. Was it really mercy toward women with mental illnesses that has given Yates a second chance at avoiding prison? Not exactly. Bizarrely, it was an episode of "Law and Order" that aided her case. The lower court threw out Yates' murder conviction when it found that an expert witness for the prosecution had presented false testimony. One Dr. Park Dietz told jurors Yates may have been influenced by an episode of the popular NBC show.

The only problem was, the episode didn't exist.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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