Texas mother Andrea Yates’s 2002 capital murder convictions for the drowning of her five children have been overturned by the First Court of Appeals in Houston – because of erroneous testimony from an expert witness for the prosecution about a nonexistent Law & Order episode.
Yates’ lawyers had argued at a hearing in December that psychiatrist Park Dietz was wrong when he referred to an episode of the show that involved a woman found innocent by reason of insanity for drowning her children, reports the Associated Press.
It was not until after the jury found Yates guilty that attorneys in the case – as well as those who convicted her – found that no such episode existed.
“We conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that Dr. Dietz’s false testimony could have affected the judgment of the jury,” the court ruled in a decision announced Thursday. “We further conclude that Dr. Dietz’s false testimony affected the substantial rights of appellant.”
The appellate ruling effectively sets up the case for a new trial, though prosecutors say, “We still believe we have a good shot to prevail in appeal,” according to Harris County Assistant District Attorney Alan Curry.
In a case that horrified the country, Yates, who was sentenced to life in prison, had called police to her home on June 20, 2001, and showed them the bodies of her five children: Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and 6-month-old Mary. She had summoned each one separately into the bathroom, where she drowned them.
According to testimony presented at trial, Yates was overwhelmed by motherhood, considered herself a failure as a mother and had attempted suicide and been hospitalized for postpartum depression.