Andrea Yates Returns to Court

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On the surface, little may seem different this week in the Houston courtroom where Andrea Yates will go on trial a second time for murder in the 2001 drownings of her five children. As in her first trial in February 2002, defense attorney George Parnham will face off against state prosecutor Kaylynn Williford, again before State District Judge Belinda Hill. The state will again be allowed to show jurors the heartbreaking photos of Noah, John, Paul, Luke and Mary Yates, ages seven to six months, each drowned in the family bathtub. Again the defense will argue Yates' innocence by insanity, while Williford will counter that Andrea knew right from wrong.

Park Dietz, the state's lone expert witness in the mental competence of criminal defendants, will testify again, even though it was Dietz's testimony that resulted in the 2005 overturning of Yates' conviction and life sentence. Dietz argued in his testimony that Andrea was sane because she patterned her attacks after an episode of the television show Law and Order. When it was later discovered that there was no such episode, a Texas appeals court overturned the conviction, stating Deitz's "false testimony affected the judgment of the jury."

One of the few outward differences in the second trial may be the absence in court of Yates' former husband Russell Yates. After divorcing Andrea in 2005, he got married this past weekend at the same church in Clear Lake, Texas, where the funeral for the children was held.

But the legal backdrop for the Yates trial has changed significantly, because of two Texas cases in which mothers have successfully argued insanity after killing their children. In a Dallas case last month, defendant Dena Schlosser pled insanity due to postpartum psychosis after severing the arms of her 10-month-old daughter and calling 911 afterward. The trial ended in a hung jury. "Andrea's case has a whole lot to do with that hung jury," says Parnham, who made Andrea's spotty treatment and medication for postpartum depression and related mental difficulties the crux of his case. "It reflects a shift in the public's perception of the reality of mental illness."

In another case two years ago in Tyler, Texas, a mother who stoned her three children to death was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity. Dietz, again the prosecution's star witness, surprised the state by testifying that Deanna Laney was a "textbook" case of insanity. Parnham plans to note that unexpected testimony in Yates' new trial.

The jury in Yates' first trial decided that Andrea, while psychotic, knew right from wrong and was not insane under Texas law. Prosecutor Williford tells TIME she remains confident that Andrea Yates' actions fall within Texas' definition of legally sane. "This is a case about five dead children," she says. "It needs to be resolved appropriately. I do believe in the insanity defense, but I do believe that someone can be mentally ill and still be criminally responsible for his or her actions."

Parnham earlier rejected the state's plea bargain offer of 35 years in jail, stating his client needs institutional care in a mental health facility, not jail time. Jury selection begins March 20.

As for Andrea, her emotional state remains fragile and she's still heavily medicated, says Parnham, who discounts recent media stories that Andrea counseled fellow prisoners on how to act crazy to beat a rap, as one fellow inmate has said. "She is aware and comprehends what occurred," he says. "That doesn't offset the torrent of emotions that overwhelms her when she realizes her children are gone."