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A Texas jury spared Andrea Yates’ life Friday after prosecutors stopped short of demanding the death penalty for the tormented mother who drowned her five children one by one in the bathtub. Yates, 37, was sentenced to life in prison and will have to serve at least 40 years before she is eligible for parole. The jury took just 40 minutes to bring an end to the case that had angered family members, women’s groups and others who said prosecutors had shown no mercy in bringing a capital murder case against a mentally ill woman overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood. “It would have been worse if she’d been given the death penalty, but not that much worse,” said Yates’ husband, Russell Yates. Referring to family members, he added: “Most of us were offended that she was even prosecuted.” He also lashed out at the medical system that treated his wife: “They miserably failed us.” Yates learned her fate with her attorney’s arm around her, and at one point turned to a member of her defense team and smiled. She later looked back toward her mother and siblings as she was led out of the courtroom. “She was trying to figure out what the verdict was,” defense attorney Wendell Odom said. “I think Andrea is relieved, of course. But Andrea is not a vocal person. She is medicated.” The jury of eight women and four men took less than four hours to reject Yates’ claim of insanity and convict her of murder Tuesday. It decided on her sentence almost as quickly after prosecutors made a less-than-forceful push for the death penalty, offering no new evidence or witnesses during the penalty phase. Afterward, prosecutor Joe Owmby said that he didn’t think “the facts and the evidence warranted me recommending a death sentence in this case.” In her closing argument, prosecutor Kaylynn Williford told jurors that Yates’ children “never had a chance and you need to think about those children.” But she also said: “Whatever decision you make, the state will accept.” Defense attorneys pleaded for Yates’ life, saying that she is no longer a danger and that she will be 77 before she becomes eligible for parole. “She will live the rest of her life knowing what she’s done,” Odom told the jury. “When it comes to punishment, there can be no greater punishment.” The jury had only two choices: life in prison or a death by injection. To impose the death penalty, the jury had to decide unanimously that Yates poses a continuing danger and that there were no mitigating circumstances against executing her. The jury answered no to the first question and therefore did not have to consider the second. Afterward, at the hotel where they had been sequestered for four weeks, jurors refused to speak with reporters. Texas is by far the nation’s most active death penalty state, with 262 executions since 1982. Harris County, where the case was brought, has 157 convicted killers on death row, more than any other Texas county. “We took no pleasure in prosecuting Mrs. Yates and we take no joy in this result,” Owmby said. “What they came back with was supported by the evidence. I can’t argue with their verdict.” The sentence ended a case that began last June 20, when a wet and bedraggled Yates called police to her home and showed them the bodies of her children: Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and 6-month-old Mary. She had called the youngsters into the bathroom and drowned them in the bathtub, even chasing down Noah when he tried to run away. Prosecutors put her on trial only for killing Noah, John and Mary; charges were not filed in the other deaths. Prosecutors split up the charges so that they would have a second chance if the trial ended in acquittal. At the trial, Yates’ lawyers, her husband and psychiatric experts argued that she suffered from severe postpartum depression and that she believed she had no choice but to kill her children to save them from the clutches of Satan. According to testimony, Yates considered herself a bad mother. Well before the slayings, she had attempted suicide and had been hospitalized for depression and put on medication. Prosecutors acknowledged she was mentally ill but argued that she could tell right from wrong and was thus not legally insane at the time of the killings. Their decision to seek the death penalty stirred new debate over the legal standard for mental illness and whether postpartum depression is properly recognized and taken seriously. Before the trial, prosecutors offered to take the death penalty off the table in exchange for a guilty plea. After Friday’s verdict, Williford denied making a less-than-passionate appeal for the death penalty in her closing argument: “I told the jury whatever they choose, whatever they decided to do, is their decision.” She also said: “Everyone is trying to make this a woman’s issue or a political issue, but the issue to me is five dead children.” “None of those children chose to die, they fought for their lives and they need to be remembered appropriately,” she said. “Someone can be mentally ill and know right from wrong. Someone can be mentally ill and still make choices.” Outside the courthouse, Russell Yates said his children “loved their mommy. I know they don’t hold this against her.” “I’ll always support Andrea. I believe in Andrea,” he said. “She’s the victim here not only of the medical community but also the justice system.” Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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