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Yates' former cellmate testifies

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Andrea Yates said her 6-month-old daughter was the easiest of her five children to drown and that she got mad when her 7-year-old son fought with her, one of her former cellmates testified Tuesday.

Felicia Doe, who was in Yates' cell block in the Harris County Jail for about a week in 2002, said that when the women would talk about their kids, Yates brought up details of how she killed her children in the family's bathtub in 2001.

"(She said) ... once they're in the water, it takes a long time for them to stop moving and that's surprising," Doe, 28, told jurors on the second day of Yates' capital murder trial.

Doe said she contacted Houston police last year after Yates' 2002 conviction was overturned on appeal – because of some erroneous testimony – and she found out Yates would be retried.

"I called because I knew something that mattered," said Doe, who had been jailed for a failure to stop and render aid conviction. "I didn't want to live with that."

Under cross-examination, Doe acknowledged that she previously lied about other matters. She also said Yates told her that she dressed the dead children in "their Sunday best" and that Yates referred to her then-husband as Russell. The youngsters were left in their pajamas, and Yates in a police interview after the slayings called her husband Rusty.

The defense says that Yates, who again has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and did not know her actions were wrong.

If convicted, Yates, who turns 42 on Sunday, will be sentenced to life in prison because prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. After the first jury rejected death, prosecutors could not seek it again because they did not find any new evidence.

Prosecutors say they will rest their case Wednesday after calling the medical examiner.

Also Tuesday, jurors heard a detective's taped interview with Yates a few hours after the drownings. In a monotone voice, Yates answered Sgt. Eric Mehl's questions mostly with a quick, flat "yes" or "no."

Yates told the detective her children's names, ages and birthdays, how many years she was married and when she had graduated from high school, college and nursing school.

She said all of the children struggled "a couple of minutes" as she drowned them face down. She said Noah, 7, struggled the most violently and even escaped from the tub, but "I got him."

When Mehl asked why she drowned them, there was silence for 15 seconds.

"Was it because they had done something?" he asked.

"No."

"You were not mad at the children?"

"No."

Then, after Mehl asked how long she had been thinking of drowning them, she finally answered.

"I guess I realized I had not been a good mother to them," she said.

"What makes you say that?" Mehl asked.

"They were not developing correctly."

Later, Mehl referred to an earlier part of the interview in which Yates said she had thought of harming her children for two years. He asked what had happened two years earlier to trigger those thoughts.

"It was time to be punished," she said.

"What do you need to be punished for?" Mehl asked.

"For not being a good mother."

"Do you want the criminal justice system to punish you?"

"Yes."

Earlier Tuesday, Yates sobbed upon seeing crime-scene footage of Noah's body floating in the bathtub and the bodies of her four younger children – 5-year-old John, 3-year-old Paul, 2-year-old Luke and baby Mary – laid out on the soggy bed.

Yates gazed intently at the screen as it showed toys in the yard and a baby swing hanging from a tree outside their suburban Houston home on June 20, 2001. As the camera moved inside to show the book-filled room in which she home-schooled the youngsters, and the kitchen strewn with half-empty cereal bowls, she put her fingers nervously to her mouth.

Yates looked down when the screen showed footage of the bathroom where Noah was, but then her eyes darted up and she began to cry. She continued shaking and crying as the video moved down the hallway and into the master bedroom where the younger children were on the bed in their pajamas, as if they were asleep.

The video then faded to black. At least five jurors wiped their eyes and noses. Later, Yates cried quietly and blew her nose as crime-scene photos were shown of the children.

Yates is being tried only in the deaths of Mary, John and Noah, a common practice in cases of multiple slayings.

Both sides are expected to call most of the same witnesses in the trial, expected to last through the end of July.

Prosecutors said that during rebuttal they will call Dr. Park Dietz, the psychiatrist who testified in the first trial that Yates knew her actions were wrong. Dietz, also a consultant to the Law & Order television series, told jurors that one episode depicting a woman who drowned her kids in a bathtub – and was acquitted by reason of insanity – aired before the Yates children died.

But no such episode existed, attorneys learned after Yates was convicted but before jurors sentenced her to life in prison.

That mistake caused an appeals court in Houston last year to overturn Yates' conviction.

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