ACLU Calls for Restraint in Yates Sentencing

March 12, 2002 12:00 am

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Statement of Diann Rust-Tierney, Director,
ACLU Capital Punishment Project

WASHINGTON — An unbelievable and unspeakable tragedy occurred in Harris County Texas on June 20 when Andrea Pia Yates drowned her five children. Depending on the impending jury decision on a sentence — death or life in prison — this horrific event could be made even more tragic.

If the jury in the Yates case sentences her to death, the senseless losses will only be compounded, and justice will not be served. Harris County – the county that has executed more people than any other county in the country – should not be so quick to add another name to its list of those executed.

We issue a plea to the prosecutor in this case to reconsider his decision to seek the death penalty for Andrea Yates. Under the U.S. Constitution, capital punishment should be reserved only for the most culpable of their guilt.

Yet all of the testimony in this case demonstrates that Andrea Yates is a tragically mentally ill person who should not be facing the death penalty. Dr. Lucy Puryear, a defense witness and leading expert in the field of women’s psychiatric childbirth-related issues, for example, believes that we are still on the frontier of discovering key elements and facts about women and these difficult childbirth psychiatric issues.

If the prosecutor decides to go forward and seek the death penalty for Yates, this would be yet another example of the kind of over-reaching that we have seen all too often in Harris County and in Texas. If any case calls for restraint in the use of the death penalty, this would be the one.

Rather than perpetuating the circle of pain caused by the Yates’ tragedy, the prosecutor ought to heed the will of the Yates family and spare her life. The time to end the pain of this case is now.

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