Prosecutors Used Non-Existent Television Show to Convict Andrea Yates of Murder
10 January 2005–In yet another unsettling instance of prosecutorial misfeasance or misconduct, the First Court of Appeals has concluded that prosecutors deprived Andrea Yates of a fair trial by using a non-existent episode of the television show “Law and Order” to convince jurors to convict her of murder.
Prosecutors had called forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz to the stand to testify that Yates was sane when she had drowned her children. Dr. Dietz claimed, in short, that Yates had likely gotten the idea of killing her children and claiming insanity from an episode of “Law and Order,” that had aired shortly before the drownings. The prosecutors then called two additional witnesses to testify that Yates watched “Law and Order” religiously. So important was this episode to their case against Yates, the prosecution referred to the episode in their closing argument.
Setting aside for the moment that the prosecution should have taken the time to at least discover whether the episode existed before parading Dr. Dietz before the jury, the prosecutors, in an effort to safeguard their tainted victory, argued that Dr. Dietz’s testimony and their reliance on it during their closing argument was “immaterial” to their case. Rather than take responsibility for their part in this injustice and join the defense in petitioning the Court of Appeals for a new trial, the prosecutors shamelessly claim that their incompetence and the perjury of their star witness was irrelevant to the jury.
Dr. Dietz-who has testified in such high-profile cases as Susan Smith (who drowned her children in a lake in South Carolina), serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer, and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski-angrily claims that he has been the victim of “a false accusation by a defense lawyer.” He says now that he made only a simple mistake. A simple mistake when a woman is accused of first-degree murder? Any responsible forensic expert would, at a minimum, have made an effort to re-watch the episode to determine whether his memory squared with the show. Just how did Dr. Dietz conclude that Yates – who had attempted suicide and suffered from depression – was sane? No doubt, Dr. Dietz, like many, if not all, forensic psychiatrists who testify for the prosecution, approached his “investigation” into Yates mental status pre-disposed to finding her sane. His willingness to incorporate a fuzzy memory of a television show he had watched, or maybe only heard about, into his expert analysis of her state of mind at the time of the drownings exposes him as a mercenary, willing to sell the accused down the river to advance his career.
And what of the prosecution? Did they not have some responsibility to check the facts? No doubt delighted that Dr. Dietz had constructed an exciting storyline to pawn off on the jury, the prosecutors did not bother themselves with details – like whether Dr. Dietz’s theory was based on facts. Of course, a thinking prosecutor may have wanted to show portions of the episode to the jury to drive home the point that Yates had been inspired to kill her children by the show. Toward that end, in such a high-profile case, would they not have simply ordered the episode from Amazon or asked the producers of “Law and Order” for copy of the episode? If they did, then they learned that the episode did not exist. The Texas Bar should investigate these prosecutors for unethical conduct and, if they deliberately shoveled shit before the jury, should disbar them – and then prosecute them.