Yates story could test state's ban on profiting from crime
By The Associated Press
HOUSTON No one has bought the rights to the story of a Houston woman convicted and sentenced to life in prison for drowning her children. Not yet, anyway.
Should that happen, some legal experts and victims' rights advocates believe that Andrea Yates' case could end up reversing Texas laws allowing the proceeds from media deals to be seized from a person accused or convicted of a crime.
"The Yates case has the potential to open Pandora's box, not only for [Yates] but for other inmates as well," said Andy Kahan, the director of the Houston Victims Assistance Center. "Are we telling people you can go rob, rape and murder someone, serve some time then turn around and become a multimillionaire?
"It (the Yates case) could either open up the floodgates or we can shut them down."
The so-called "Son of Sam" laws, intended to keep convicts from making money off their crimes, were given the nickname in 1977 after New York passed a law that prevented serial killer David Berkowitz from making money for his story. In its 1991 ruling Simon & Schuster v. New York Crime Victims Board, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York's law for being too broad, ruling it violated a criminal's First Amendment rights.
Similar laws in California and Washington have also been found to be unconstitutional.
Kahan sent inquiries to the Texas Attorney General's office about the Yates case after she signed over the movie and publication rights about her story to her defense lawyer, George Parnham, to cover mounting legal fees.
Yates, 37, was convicted March 12 in the drowning deaths of three of her children: Noah, 7; John, 5, and Mary, 6 months. She has also confessed to drowning Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.
Yates claimed she was insane as she drowned her children in June 2001. Jurors rejected that claim and sentenced her to life in prison. She is not eligible for parole until 2041.
Under Texas law, the prosecutor of the jurisdiction can seize income that a person accused or convicted of a crime or the person's representative or assignee receives from a movie, book, magazine article, tape recording, phonographic record, radio or television presentation, or live entertainment in which the crime was re-enacted.
Parnham said he had spoken with officials of the State Bar of Texas about the arrangement and was satisfied that it was legal and ethical.
Sidney Buchanan, a University of Houston Law Center professor, said Texas' law is similar to the New York one that was struck down.
"If litigation proceeds from the Yates case, the constitutionality of the Texas 'Son of Sam' law would be tested," Buchanan said. "And it probably would meet the same fate as New York's."
Last month the attorney general's office said Kahan had no standing to request an opinion in the case. He has since turned to Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal to see not only whether Yates' lawyer can legally profit from media deals but whether her family can as well.
Bill Delmore, the head of Rosenthal's legal services bureau, said Kahan's request is being reviewed.
Parnham has said there is no deal in the works but, should one arise, the proceeds would be used to cover Yates' legal expenses and to set up a fund for education about postpartum depression.
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Information on legal issues and legislation concerning attempts to prevent criminals from profiting through sale of memoirs and other intellectual property.