Houston Chronicle

June 27, 2001

Yates case falls under gag order

Reports of mother's pregnancy unfounded

By LISA TEACHEY and JANETTE RODRIGUES
Houston Chronicle

Despite objections from defense lawyers, a judge issued a gag order Tuesday in the case of a Clear Lake mother accused of drowning her five children.

Andrea Pia Yates, 36, is charged with capital murder in the deaths of sons Noah, 7, and John, 5. The children, along with siblings Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months, were found dead last week in the Yates home in the 900 block of Beachcomber. They are to be buried this morning in Webster.

Police have said the mother, who home-schooled her children, admitted to drowning her children in a bathtub June 20. Her husband, Russell Yates, told authorities his wife had been treated for postpartum depression for the past two years.

Meanwhile, in response to media inquiries regarding Andrea Yates' physical condition, the Harris County Sheriff's Department has declined to comment. But the Chronicle learned that Yates was not pregnant, as reports had speculated.

State District Judge Belinda Hill said Tuesday the extensive media coverage of the case will harm the judicial process and could interfere with the court's ability to seat an impartial jury.

"The court has become very seriously concerned about the potential jury pool becoming tainted," Hill said.

The order prohibits defense lawyers, prosecutors, law enforcement officers and witnesses involved in the case from talking to reporters.

Hill said neither Yates' lawyers, George Parnham and Wendell Odom, nor prosecutors Joe Owmby and Kaylynn Williford asked for the gag order.

"It should be clear this order was not at the request of either side," Hill said during the hearing, adding that the request was made by a court-appointed lawyer Friday before the Yates family hired Parnham and Odom.

During the hearing, Odom said he and Parnham opposed the order.

"We have not requested a gag order," Odom told Hill. "We generally object to the gag order. ... We don't agree it's necessary."

Yates is in the Harris County Jail, where she is being held in the wing reserved for prisoners with possible mental problems.

Conflicting reports on Yates' physical condition -- including whether she is pregnant or told jailers she was -- pervaded throughout the day Tuesday.

Lt. Robert Van Pelt, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department, said he could not release Yates' medical condition. However, the Chronicle learned that Yates was given a pregnancy test and that the results were negative.

Van Pelt said an inmate who enters the jail system with a pre-existing medical problem, or one who claims to be taking psychotropic drugs, is examined by medical personnel and then given a pregnancy test before being treated.

Van Pelt said medical information is confidential under the law.

"We cannot go into specific treatment or medical requirements that (inmates) may have while they are in our custody," Van Pelt said.

He described the pregnancy test as a type where the results are known minutes after it is taken.

All jail inmates go through a health screening when they are booked into the jail, he said. Female inmates are usually tested for pregnancy 14 days later.

Russell Yates, also 36, has remained supportive of his wife. He was at work at the Johnson Space Center, where he is a computer engineer, when the children were killed.

Services for the Yates children are at 10:30 this morning at Clear Lake Church of Christ, 938 El Dorado. The children will be buried in Forest Park East Cemetery at 21620 Interstate 45 in Webster.

About 75 to 100 people attended an open-casket visitation at the church Tuesday night. In the church hallway, five posters, like pages of a scrapbook, were adorned with pictures, each dedicated to one of the children.

Inside, visitors hugged Russell Yates, who every so often would brush away a tear. His mother and brother also attended the visitation, as did relatives from Andrea Yates' family.

The children's white caskets, crafted with angels on the corners, were placed in a semicircle inside the church. A floral spray of a different color and each bearing the name of one of the children was placed on top of each casket.


Chronicle reporter Ruth Rendon contributed to this story.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle