Houston Chronicle

June 25, 2001

Mom who killed kids 'in deep psychotic state,' lawyer says

Chronicle wire services
Houston Chronicle

The Clear Lake mother who confessed to drowning her five children in a bathtub is in a "deep psychotic state" and on 24-hour suicide watch in jail, her lawyer said today.

George Parnham, attorney for 36-year-old Andrea Yates, said he had seen his client over the weekend at the Harris County Jail where she has been held since the murders last Wednesday.

"She is in a very deep psychotic state. She is being cared for very, very well by mental health professionals in a jail facility and is obviously heavily medicated ... and is on a 24-hour suicide watch," Parnham told ABC's Good Morning America program.

Parnham said he had not yet been able to have a rational conversation with his client.

"I anticipate that eventually the medication she is on will kick in and there will be some ability to have a rational conversation with her. That moment in time has not yet arrived," he said.

Yates, he said, had been under psychiatric care for some time, adding that he was studying her medical history closely before deciding to proceed with a defense of insanity.

He told the Houston Chronicle, however, "I've accumulated evidence in the last 24 hours that strongly suggests that the mental status of my client will be the issue, which means entering a not-guilty plea by reason of insanity."

Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to pursue the death penalty against Yates, but legal experts say they could have difficulty doing this if her husband opposes it, as he has done so far.

The husband, NASA computer engineer Russell Yates, has said his wife suffered from severe postpartum depression and had taken anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication in recent years.

The Houston Chronicle reported that Yates told police she drowned her children one by one and chased her oldest son around the house before wrestling him into the water to kill him.

The children, four boys and a girl, ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years. A joint funeral is scheduled to be held in a Webster church Wednesday.

Parnham said it was important to remember that tragedies of this magnitude did not happen in a vacuum.

"This is not a situation where a husband and wife sit at a the breakfast table, kiss each other goodbye, he goes off to work, she has a cup of coffee and then decides that it is time to drown the kids. There is a progressive disease that in my estimation is evidenced by actions that happened in the past ... that led to this tragic event," Parnham said.

The woman's husband saw her in jail this weekend in a meeting her lawyer said was "as intense, as private and as heart-rendering as any meeting between two individuals that I have ever witnessed."

Parnham said Russell Yates was very supportive of his wife. "He is taking this on as his own personal responsibility. I applaud him for that. He and the remainder of the family love this woman and are very, very supportive of my efforts to defend her," he said.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle