Why is Andrea Yates charged with three drownings, not five?

Why is Andrea Yates charged with three drownings, not five?

Why is Andrea Yates charged with three drownings, not five?

Answers to your questions about the news.
March 7 2002 5:59 PM

Why Is Andrea Yates Charged With Three Drownings Instead of Five?

Andrea Yates allegedly killed five of her children, but she is on trial for the murder of just three: Noah, age 7; John, 5; and Mary, 6 months. Why not try her for all five murders?

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The prosecutors aren't talking because of a gag order imposed by the judge, but here's a good guess as to their decision: If they don't get a guilty verdict or the death penalty at the end of this trial, they want to indict Yates for the deaths of her sons Paul, age 3, and Luke, 2. It's not clear under Texas law that Yates could face a second trial, but the prosecutors probably want to keep their options open.

If that's the prosecution's logic, why not try Yates for one drowning at a time? 1) Because one of the crimes Yates is charged with is "multiple murder," which requires at least two murders. (The other charge Yates is facing is capital murder of someone under 6 years old.) 2) A conviction for three drownings is more likely to bring a death sentence than a conviction for one. From the prosecution's standpoint, a conviction for three deaths is the same as a conviction for five deaths because either conviction would likely come with a death sentence. A conviction for one murder might be a different story.

The prosecution will present evidence for all five drownings at the trial, but the jury will be instructed that Yates is being tried for only three of them. Interestingly, it might be in the defense's interest for the evidence for all five drownings to be presented because it would support their insanity plea.

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Explainer thanks George E. Dix of the University of Texas School of Law and John Douglass of the University of Houston Law Center.