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June 26, 2001

'She's in a very deep psychotic state'

Defence of insanity may be used in case of mother who drowned 5 children

National Post

The Associated Press
ANDREA YATES: Lawyer says she is under a 24-hour suicide watch.

WASHINGTON - A Texas mother said to be suffering from postpartum depression and 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 yesterday.

George Parnham said he had visited Andrea Yates, 36, 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," he told ABC's Good Morning America. "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."

Mrs. Yates had been under psychiatric care for some time, he said, adding he was studying her medical history closely before deciding whether to use a defence of insanity.

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

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

According to newspaper reports, Mrs. 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 six months to seven years. Their funeral will be held in a Houston-area church today.

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

"This is not a situation where a husband and wife sit at 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," he said.

The Yates had a meeting in the jail that was "as intense, as private and as heart-rendering as any meeting between two individuals that I have ever witnessed."

Mr. 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," the lawyer said.

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