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Published: Monday, 7/31/2006

A just, if belated, verdict

In finding Andrea Yates not guilty by reason of insanity, a jury in Houston has finally accomplished what the Texas judicial system should have determined in the first place.

Ms. Yates, 42, murdered her five children by drowning them in the family bathtub back in 2001. But there is little doubt that she was deeply psychotic at the time - and still is.

Even her attorney concedes that she "will be forever mentally ill," and almost certainly will remain in state custody for the rest of her life. That's the way it should be.

The question is why Texas authorities wasted time and tax dollars in seeking the death penalty against Ms. Yates to begin with, a verdict that was overturned on appeal and led to a second trial.

Only a hopelessly disturbed individual would murder her own children in such a callous manner.

She had a long history of mental illness, and there was no indication that anything but that illness caused her to commit this most heinous act.

We support the death penalty in most cases, but no one can argue persuasively that Ms. Yates has gotten off easy, despite the not guilty verdict.

If, despite treatment in a state mental hospital, she remains in the throes of psychosis, she will be trapped for the rest of her life in a personal hell that most of us only dread to imagine.

If she is cured, by virtue of some miracle drug or treatment, Ms. Yates will then be forced to openly confront what she did - erased the lives of her five small children, aged 6 months to 7 years, because in her delirium she believed they had to be killed to be saved from eternal damnation.

In either case, how much worse a penalty could society expect?

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