Return to Transcripts main page

CNN The Point

Emotional Testimony at Andrea Yates Trial; Body of Danielle van Dam Believed to be Found

Aired February 27, 2002 - 20:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: THE POINT with Anderson Cooper. At the Andrea Yates trial, emotional testimony after days of tedious details.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that there's a point at which the jury's heard too much medical testimony?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, maybe. Maybe. You never know. That's the risk you take.


ANNOUNCER: "Flashpoint": Was it insanity? We'll hear from a woman who, like Andrea Yates, also suffered from postpartum psychosis.

It took three trials to lock him away, and more than 13 years behind bars to prove his innocence. How could this have happened?


ARVIN MCGEE JR., FORMER INMATE: Even though I've been tested for the last 14 years, I never gave up hope.


ANNOUNCER: THE POINT, now from New York, Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, THE POINT ANCHOR: Good evening. We begin with a breaking news story that may be the worse news possible for the family of Danielle van Dam, the 7-year-old San Diego girl, who has been missing since the beginning of the month.

Today, what appears to be the burned remains of a child were found in the desert near El Cajon. San Diego police and homicide detectives are on the scene. CNN's Frank Buckley is en route and joins us on the phone. Frank, what is the latest? Frank Buckley is talking to us on the cell phone. He is obviously having some problems. The region, El Cajon, is about 25 miles east of San Diego.

What we know at this point is that rescue workers, volunteers, have been out combing the desert for many days, since Danielle van Dam has been missing. And Frank Buckley, can you hear me? Obviously, Frank Buckley is still having trouble.

As I said, El Cajon is about 25 miles east of San Diego, and a researcher has told CNN that a body has been found. It appears to be a child's body. The San Diego police, Lieutenant Jim Collins, told the Associated Press that there was "a high probability the body was that of the missing second-grader." But we will have more of this breaking story in just a moment.

Right now, we go to Houston, Texas and the Andrea Yates trial. For days now, the jurors have been hearing detailed testimony from doctors. But today, the jury in the Andrea Yates trial heard about her behavior from her husband.

"Flashpoint": What is insanity? The Andrea Yates case has sparked a lot of interest. David Mattingly is covering it for us. David, what happened in the courtroom today?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Russell Yates, Andrea Yates' husband, took the stand in her defense today and it did prove to be emotional. Russell Yates breaking down and crying at one time. Andrea Yates also shedding tears as defense attorneys showed video to us and to the jury, of the Yates children.

We saw the children playing, smiling, laughing, having a good time, clearly happy and healthy. We also saw video of Andrea Yates in the hospital after the birth of her fifth child. She was smiling broadly and beaming like just about any new mother.


FAIRY CAROLAND, RUSSELL YATES' AUNT: We didn't know about this illness until really this happened. Rusty did not know the depth of her illness until this happened. He was not being told things by the medical community that went into records that he never saw until after this happened. So, you know, that picture was never, ever clear. It just simply was not.


MATTINGLY: And, Anderson, that was probably the biggest point that came out today. Russell Yates testifying that no doctor at any time ever told him that his wife had been diagnosed as psychotic. Anderson.

COOPER: David, as you know, Russell Yates has been very supportive of his wife all along. He's visited her while she's been incarcerated. He had hoped that his testimony would help his wife. Do you think it did?

MATTINGLY: I believe that there was some, a lot there the defense could use. Russell Yates, his testimony probably called into question a lot of the care Andrea Yates was receiving in 2001 prior to the time that she killed her children.

He talks about that she was hospitalized twice after the death of her father. Each of those hospitalizations she was discharged and her husband said that he could not believe that she was being let out of the hospital in the state that she was in.

He had arguments about the medication she was on. He also described how she was taken off of anti-psychotic medication in the weeks leading up to the murders. So a lot of questions about the care that she was receiving.

COOPER: What happens tomorrow?

MATTINGLY: Tomorrow, Russell Yates will go back on the stand. It will be the prosecution's turn to ask him questions, and we're expecting to hear a lot more of what he saw happening in their home, as she declined into mental illness. Anderson.

COOPER: All right, David Mattingly thanks very much. Was it insanity? That is the question a lot of people are asking. The Andrea Yates case has sparked a lot of interest in postpartum depression, but rarely do we hear about it from people who have actually experienced it.

Tonight, we want you to meet Jennifer Moyer. After the birth of her son, she struggled for more than two years with depression and postpartum psychosis, the same condition Andrea Yates suffered. She writes about her history in the February issue of "Glamour" magazine and is the Florida coordinator for Postpartum Support International. Thanks very much for being with us.


COOPER: About two months after the birth of your son, you - well, immediately after the birth of your son, you experienced what is commonly known as the "baby blues" and that gradually evolved to about two months after the birth, you experienced psychosis. How did that happen?

MOYER: Exactly. Yes, I did. I had gone three nights without sleep, and basically I had had anxiety symptoms come on prior to that when my son started sleeping through the night, and didn't recognize that these were early warning signs that I should be concerned about, because I didn't know anything about the illnesses that could occur in the postpartum other than the "baby blues."

ANDERSON: You were also experiencing paranoia?

MOYER: After the three nights, I was extremely paranoid. I didn't trust anyone, not even my husband, and that's when the psychosis, I had to go forcibly to the hospital and no one actually ever told me what I had or what I was experiencing until I was discharged and then 14 days later readmitted and then I had been given a second opinion.

COOPER: Take us, if you can, into your mind frame right before you were taken to the hospital. What happened? You said you were having paranoid thoughts, you didn't trust anyone, didn't trust your husband. How did you end up in the hospital? MOYER: I thought that someone was going to take my baby and kill me, and so I was holding my son and my husband tried to contact my doctor by phone and I forcibly tried to prevent him, because I thought someone was coming to take my child and to murder me. And as far as I could tell, that's what was happening. When they came, you know no one seemed to understand what was happening to me either that was responding to me, medical personnel or anyone. So it was really just living a nightmare that was coming true.

COOPER: I read that you were hospitalized eight different times at psychiatric wards.

MOYER: Correct.

COOPER: What was the medical response. I mean you've indicated you feel the doctors just simply didn't know how to deal with this. Are they not well informed?

MOYER: Well, I think I've learned since that the American Psychiatric Association did not establish a diagnostic code until 1994, and this occurred in early 1996. So I now look at it as, you know, just ignorance possibly. I don't know.

But I did, thankfully, get a second opinion and was given a diagnosis by an excellent physician. However, that was all I got. I got diagnosed, which took a weight off of me, but I never got explanations, support from anyone that had gone through what I was going through. So it was just really hard to try to understand.

Being an educated person, I was very prepared to have this child. We were wanting this child. I went through preparation classes, everything. I mean I read everything and only the "baby blues" is all that I really read about. So I was prepared for that.

COOPER: Watching the Andrea Yates trial and hearing the testimony about what she did to her children, it is hard not to form an opinion. You have been through the similar psychosis, the postpartum depression. How do you see what Andrea Yates did? How do you see this trial?

MOYER: Well, I feel it's a tragedy. It was preventable and it never should have happened. My heart breaks for the whole family because I know what living hell it is to go through this. And, you know, my hope is that the jury can recognize that she was suffering from an illness, and that she was not functioning as she normally does or did, and that you know, insanity is a very fair, reasonable defense and plea. And I think she needs the medical treatment that she should is what she needs.

COOPER: Jennifer Moyer, thank you very much for coming in tonight and sharing your experience. As you know, there was some breaking news stories going on. So we are going to have to cut away.


COOPER: But we do very much appreciate you telling us your story tonight, and as we said, you can read about it in the issue of Glamour magazine.

We're going to go now for an update on this breaking news story out of California. We believe we have Frank Buckley on the phone. Frank, can you hear me?

FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, apologies about the phone problem here. San Diego police on the scene are saying the body they have found is that of a small child, and a lieutenant on the scene says there is a "high probability that it is the body of seven- year-old Danielle van Dam."

It was found in a rural area, just off the road, about 25 miles east of San Diego near a place called Singing Hills Country Club. It was found by a search team member. Apparently the sheriff's department had expanded the search area to this location. It is miles away from the desert area that was search more recently. Positive identification on the body could be days away.

Just yesterday, you probably remember, a neighbor of the van Dam's, David Westerfield, was charged with Danielle's murder, also with the kidnapping of a child under 14 years of age, and possession of child pornography. David Westerfield was arrested on Friday, after authorities said DNA test results showed Danielle's DNA on an article of clothing belonging to Westerfield and in his motor home.

We're expecting to hear more detail at a news conference that's scheduled for 6:30 local time, 9:30 Eastern. Anderson.

COOPER: Has there been any reaction from the parents of Danielle van Dam at this point?

BUCKLEY: So far, no. We believe that they are still inside their home in Savor Springs. We've been told that a police officer has gone into their home and we are awaiting their reaction as well.

COOPER: All right, Frank Buckley, thanks very much, on the way to the scene, about 25 miles east of San Diego, a region in the desert called El Cajon. Thanks very much for bringing us that update. Obviously, CNN will be following this story as it continues.

Someone who has been closely watching the developments in this story, Marc Klaas of the Polly Klaas Foundation, his daughter Polly, of course, was kidnapped from her home and killed almost a decade ago. Marc Klaas joins us on the phone from San Francisco. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Klaas.


COOPER: If anyone knows what the parents of Danielle van Dam are going through right now, it is you. Tell us a little bit about what they must be going through.

KLAAS: Well, you know, I think they've been trying to prepare for what's happened to their daughter, over the course of the last several days, but nothing can really prepare you to accept the death of your own child. So this has rocked their world like no other event in their lives, and they're in an emotional depth that few people are ever unfortunate enough to realize and many people are never able to extricate themselves from. It's just so terribly sad.

I really don't think that you'll be hearing any comment from the parents this evening. It's just going to be a hellacious night for them. It's so terribly sad.

COOPER: What I have heard time and time again from family members who have gone through this is that the worst part is the not knowing, you know, the conflicting stories. Was that for you the worst thing?

KLAAS: Well, the worst thing is finding out. I mean truly the worst thing that can happen to a parent is the immediate realization that somebody has taken a precious little child that has done absolutely nothing, had no illness, and done something horrible and brutal to that child.

But once one gets past that, if one gets past that, then one is able to somehow pull their life together and move on. Over the long term, not knowing is a terrible thing. Those are the people that really are unable to move their lives forward oftentimes, just because they're stuck in a past of not knowing.

COOPER: Mr. Klaas, you have met with the van Dams, I understand.


COOPER: I understand you were with them on Friday when, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I understand you were with them on Friday when Mr. Westerfield was arrested. Give us a sense of their mood, their reaction.

KLAAS: Well, I was with them on Friday, not long after he was arrested, and we were sitting in their living room watching the sheriff or the police chief's press conference.

And while he was telling the world that Westerfield had been arrested for kidnapping, which they already knew there was a crawl under the screen that said he'd been arrested for kidnapping and murder, and that sent Mrs. van Dam into a tailspin. And that was just an unsubstantiated, that was a rumor that she knew wasn't true.

So, to come to the realization that finally this is true is just so terribly devastating to this family. But you know, it's also a testament to the hard work that the volunteers have done, that they have actually gone out and they've recovered this child. And I think without that effort, possibly law enforcement never would have been able to bring her home, because it doesn't look like this guy Westerfield is talking to anybody about anything.

COOPER: Just very briefly in the few seconds we have left, the trial of David Westerfield, these parents have a very long road ahead of them. What should they expect? What's your advice? KLAAS: Well, they should expect to go to the trial everyday, because quite frankly they're the only ones that are going to represent their daughter. The prosecutor will be representing the, will be representing the state, and they're going to have to sit through the most hellacious information, listening to the last moments of their daughter's life, compartmentalized for the world to hear over days and weeks. It's just hideous and horrible stuff.

COOPER: Well, Marc Klaas, we appreciate you joining us this evening, and adding your thoughts on this very difficult night. Thank you very much for being with us.

Well, moving on to something of a lighter story. Whether you had a good day or a bad day, you could not possibly have had the kind of day that Arvin McGee has been through in the past 24 hours or so. Stay with us for a day that was 13 years in the making.


COOPER: Well, Arvin McGee, Jr. has had some kind of day. It is his first full day of freedom after more than 13 years in prison, 13 years for a crime he did not commit. He is the 102nd man exonerated by DNA testing, and he joins us from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

And joining us from Washington, Jim Bednar, he is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, which helped Arvin McGee, Jr. get the test that got him out.

Mr. McGee, I want to start with you. I don't know if congratulations is the right word, but it is certainly the word that comes to mind. Freedom after 13 years in jail for a crime you did not commit, how does it feel?

MCGEE: Well, you know, it was wonderful. You know, I couldn't express you know the outpouring love that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) system gave to me during those two years. And like I said, I'm still overjoyed. It hasn't sunk in yet, so.

COOPER: What's the best thing you did today?

MCGEE: We went shopping. We went shopping for clothes.

COOPER: Shopping for clothes. Did you have a good meal?

MCGEE: Yes, we had some boiled chicken. I had McDonald's today.

COOPER: You had a malt shake you said?

MCGEE: Fries and shake and a hamburger.

COOPER: I imagine it tasted pretty good.

MCGEE: Yes, imagine. Yes, real good.

COOPER: You know, as happy as you must be today, one-third of your life was in effect taken away from you. Are you angry, and if so, who are you angry at?

MCGEE: Well, I'm more angry at the system to let me down. You know, 13 years and I was portrayed as a rapist. You know, my family had to live that as me being a rapist. You know, now after 13 years, I've been exonerated, you know, but I don't want to stop there. I want it proved to where I'm innocent. I'm not exonerated, I'm innocent of this crime, and that needs to be expressed that I'm innocent of this crime, you know, not exonerated, innocent.

COOPER: Mr. Bednar, let me bring you in now. It took three trials to get this man convicted back in 1988. The witness testimony was very shaky to say the least, and the forensic evidence was inconclusive. How did this happen? How did this man get put in jail?

JIM BEDNAR, OKLAHOMA INDIGENT DEFENSE SYSTEM: Well, I think there are a couple of reasons. One is that we've utilized a lot of false or bogus science in the system. Now this wasn't intentional. I don't - there's no alleging, allegations of wrongdoing in this case. But the testing that was utilized and analysis that was made was simply not up to par as what it is today.

COOPER: Do you think there are many more innocent people behind bars?

BEDNAR: I certainly do, yes.

COOPER: Does this - do you have faith in the criminal justice system?

BEDNAR: Well, here's what we're doing in Oklahoma. The last four years, I've been the director of the system, the indigent defense system, and we're trying to create a balance in funding. It was the imbalance in funding that existed in Oklahoma that basically created this problem. And I think we're trying to address that. We've made good progress the last four years.

We've had the DNA unit, it will be, it's about a year and a half now and we've had three exonerations in the last nine months in Oklahoma, through being able to demonstrate that the forensic testing, either: 1) was faulty, or 2) the conclusions exceeded what the analysis would allow.

COOPER: Mr. McGee, you have a 13-year-old son who was born shortly after you were arrested. You only saw him three times while you were in prison. How do you go about rebuilding your life, rebuilding that connection with your son?

MCGEE: It's going to be slow. It's going to be painful. It's going to be slow. See that's one thing the system don't look at. When you snatch somebody out of a loving family like that. You know what I mean? Then try to raise somebody from the prison walls, it's hard to do, and I wouldn't do that, you know what I mean, it's hard.

You know, my son grew up without a dad for 13 years. You know, his mom's done the best she can. She's done a wonderful job raising him, but you know, your father figure's not there, you know, and that's sad.

COOPER: All right, Mr. McGee and Mr. Bednar, I'm sorry we have to cut it short tonight. We have this continuing breaking news story, but we do appreciate you coming in, spending your first night of freedom with us, Mr. McGee.

MCGEE: You're welcome.

COOPER: Thanks very much. Good luck.

BEDNAR: Thank you.

MCGEE: Thank you.

COOPER: All right, and THE POINT will be right back.


COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper in New York. CNN will continue to bring you any updates in the Danielle van Dam case. Up next on Larry King, relationship advice from Dr. Phil McGraw, and I invite you to join me tomorrow night. See you then.