Jurors must decide if Yates is still a threat Paul Duggan SPECIAL TO THE STAR HOUSTON — For 17 days, Andrea Pia Yates' attorneys tried to save her from a murder conviction, arguing passionately in court that she was psychotic and unable to distinguish right from wrong when she purposely drowned her five children. Then on Tuesday, having failed, the lawyers stood stunned and disappointed outside the courthouse, braced for a new challenge. "I hope we'll be able to save her life," defence attorney George Parnham said. That may be a difficult job here in Harris County, Texas, the epicentre of capital punishment in America. No jurisdiction in the nation imposes more death sentences. Today, the jurors in Yates' case will reconvene for testimony in the trial's penalty phase. The eight women and four men must decide whether the 37-year-old homemaker, the wife of a NASA computer engineer, should be executed or given a life prison term with parole eligibility in 40 years. "Mental illness is still not understood and still not appreciated," Parnham said after the jury decided to hold Yates criminally culpable for drowning the five children, aged 6 months to 7 years, in the family bathtub last June 20. While many people were critical of District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal after he announced last August that his office would seek the death penalty for Yates, lawyers and political observers here said they weren't surprised. Given complaints that capital punishment is meted out disproportionately to defendants who are black and poor, they said, Rosenthal might have felt that he could not rule out the death penalty for a middle-class white woman, especially in such a horrific case. Under Texas law, when the jurors in Yates' case begin deliberating on a punishment, they must first address the question of "future dangerousness." If Yates were spared execution, would she likely "commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society?'' Society, of course, would be the inmates and staff workers at the prison where she would spend at least the next 40 years. Legal experts said the future dangerousness argument may be hard to make in regard to Yates, who had no prior criminal history. So far, no evidence has been produced to suggest she was a danger to anyone but her children. If even one juror decided Yates would not pose "a continuing threat," she would be sentenced to a life term. But if jurors agreed unanimously that she would likely commit future violence, they would move to a second step in their deliberations, addressing the question of mercy. In arguing for mitigation, Yates' attorneys almost certainly will focus on her struggle with mental illness, legal experts said. Yates would go to death row only if jurors unanimously rejected the mitigation argument. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- what do you think? this trial intrigues me. if you don't remember it happening last summer, or you haven't been really following it now...basically these people lived in a 350 sq. ft. bus, with 5 children. last june the mother systematically called her children, one at a time, into the washroom and drowned them in the bath tub, and laid them in the bed under the sheets once they were dead. she then called 911, the police, and her husband and told them what she did and that they should come home. her lawyer argued that she as mentally insane, and did not know what she was doing.but would a mentally insane person who was having an episode know to call 911? would it matter? i dunno..anyways..the jury found her guilty..today they are deliberating as to wether she deserves the death penalty..what do you think? and of the death penalty in general?