Thursday, January 06, 2005

Fictional Law & Order episode overturns murder conviction.

Question: In Texas, how many children does a mother have to admit to drowning before the state will convict her? Answer: more than 5.
HOUSTON (AP) - Andrea Yates' capital murder convictions for drowning her children were overturned Thursday by an appeals court, which ruled that a prosecution witness' erroneous testimony about a nonexistent TV episode could have been crucial.

Yates' lawyers had argued at a hearing last month before a three-judge panel of the First Court of Appeals in Houston that psychiatrist Park Dietz was wrong when he mentioned an episode of the TV show "Law & Order" involving a woman found innocent by reason of insanity for drowning her children.

After jurors found Yates guilty, attorneys in the case and jurors learned no such episode existed.

Prosecutor Joe Owmby said at the time that Dietz didn't tell him until after his closing arguments in the guilt phase of the trial that he was mistaken about the show.

"He was confused and made an error," Owmby said.

"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. "We further conclude that Dr. Dietz's false testimony affected the substantial rights of appellant."
While flipping through the channels one night, I caught 3 seconds of Law & Order, so I can agree that the authority on fictional TV courtroom drama would have a greater influence on a jury than facts in the case ever could:
A wet and bedraggled Yates 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 called them into the bathroom and drowned them one by one.

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