Duke Journal of Gender Law & Policy
On June 20, 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her four children in a bathtub. At Andrea’s trial, in Harris County, Texas, the prosecution’s star expert, Patrick Dietz, appeared particularly adept at persuading the jury to accept the prosecution’s assertion that Andrea was sane and acting intentionally when she killed her children. This Article analyzes the problematic aspects of Dietz's testimony in an effort to contribute some balance to the Andrea Yates story. Despite the long history of expert witnesses in criminal trials, the justice system should question the fairness and efficacy of such an unregulated storytelling process. Part I of this Article briefly discusses Andrea's life up to her marriage as well as the outcome of her trial. Part II provides an overview of the insanity defense and the strict Texas insanity standard. Part III examines Dietz's background, his reputation, and his psychiatric philosophy, in addition to his proclivity to testify for the prosecution. Part IV describes Andrea's history of mental illness, especially her postpartum psychosis that started with the birth of her first child and ended with a severe psychotic episode. Part V focuses on Dietz's testimony in the Yates trial, beginning with his pre-trial interview with Andrea and ending with an analysis of his conclusions. The discussion emphasizes the speculative nature of many of Dietz's statements and their lack of connection to Andrea's history of mental illness. Part VI presents the other perspectives and experts in the Yates case, and considers how the case might have reached a different result with a more consistent defense strategy or a less rigid insanity standard.
Deborah W. Denno,
Who is Andrea Yates? A Short Story About Insanity, 10 Duke J. Gender L. & Pol'y 1
Available at: http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/faculty_scholarship/104