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Wednesday, October 4, 2023


Journalist recalls media coverage of Yates trial

Writer Suzanne O’Malley described her journey from struggling as a young writer to uncovering false testimony in the Andrea Yates case at the Elizabeth D. Rockwell Pavilion on Thursday.

Yates was convicted of first-degree murder in 2002 for the drowning deaths of her five children in their Clear Lake home. She had admitted to the slaying of her children but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

O’Malley had been covering the trial for O, The Oprah Magazine, and said prosecution witness Park Dietz, a consultant for Law ‘ Order, gave false testimony.

Dietz had said that an episode of Law ‘ Order, which was frequently watched by Yates, aired in which a mother drowns her children and is acquitted for being insane, O’Malley said. He testified that this episode aired not long before the Yates killings.

"As it happened, there was no such Law ‘ Order," O’Malley said. "Ultimately, my revelation and my writing about that ‘mistestimony’ is what resulted in the verdict being overturned."

Dietz was found to have given materially false testimony and the Texas Court of Appeals overturned the convictions in 2005, though Yates remained in a mental health facility.

O’Malley said she was the only member of the press who communicated with Andrea Yates, and their last written correspondence was around a year and a half ago.

Students asked O’Malley how experiences like exposing the error in Dietz’s testimony and being in contact with Andrea Yates and the family affected her personally and professionally.

O’Malley said she had a "very good support mechanism" while investigating the case.

O’Malley is a professor at Yale, a journalist, author of Are You There Alone? The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates and formerly wrote for the television series Law ‘ Order.

But O’Malley’s high profile writing career began humbly, she said.

She moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Texas to pursue a career in journalism and other writing.

"I bought a plane ticket, I packed two suitcases, I took every copy of articles I had ever written or edited, and I had one Texas Monthly article that I had published – and I went."

Steven Mintz, professor of history and director of the American Cultures Program, met O’Malley at a talk he gave at a Yale art gallery around a year and a half ago and wanted to give students an opportunity to interact with a high profile, successful person, he said.

"Her message – that growing up in some Dallas suburb, she had all these people that she admired and that somehow she was going to become part of their world – that’s what I want people to feel," Mintz said. "I wanted them to see a Texan who made good…. What she’s done is not out of the realm of possibilities for our students."

Other guests he has helped bring to speak are rap artist Chuck D and filmmaker Spike Lee.

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