Houston Chronicle

July 3, 2001, 10:18PM

Is Yates fit to go on trial?

Defense attorneys ask for hearing

By LISA TEACHEY and RUTH RENDON
Houston Chronicle

A lawyer for a Clear Lake area woman accused of drowning her five children in a bathtub filed a motion Tuesday for a hearing to determine whether she is competent to stand trial.

Andrea Pia Yates, 37, is charged with capital murder in the deaths of her sons Noah, 7, and John, 5. The children, along with siblings Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months, were found dead June 20 in the Yates' home in the 900 block of Beachcomber.

According to the motion filed by lawyer Wendell Odom in state District Judge Belinda Hill's court, Yates has suffered a "prolonged history of mental disease and defect, which includes two prior hospitalizations, at least two attempts of suicide and prior diagnosis of major depression and postpartum depression with psychosis."

The Chronicle has learned that Yates was hospitalized earlier this year at Devereux Texas Treatment Network, a psychiatric hospital.

Yates was brought to Devereux several months ago and stayed about a week, said a source familiar with her medical treatment.

"When she came in she wouldn't eat. She was malnourished," the source said.

Yates was also described as being "zombie-like."

"She was the saddest-looking person I've ever seen. She looked horrible," the source said. "She was sad looking. She was just lost and had a blank stare."

The source remembered Yates saying, " I don't have any friends."

After a week's stay, Yates was released but returned to the League City facility a day or two later and was hospitalized for several more days.

The source also said her husband, Russell Yates, visited the hospital daily with the five children. While he tried to get his wife to eat, the children remained in the waiting room by themselves, where the source described them as well-behaved.

The source also said the Yateses did not follow up with recommended therapy management after her hospital stay.

Defense lawyer George Parnham filed a subpoena Tuesday for medical records from Dr. Mohammad Saaed of Dickinson.

Saaed was appointed to Yates' case while she was at Devereux, according to the Chronicle's source.

Another defense lawyer, John V. O'Sullivan, last week subpoenaed information from Beverley Bedard, the director of health information systems at the hospital, as well as from Saaed.

A subpoena also filed Tuesday by Parnham requests information from Memorial Hermann Prevention & Recovery Center, formerly Spring Shadows Glen Hospital, a Houston psychiatric hospital.

The document does not indicate when Yates may have been treated there.

According to Harris County Children's Protective Services records, Yates was treated at a psychiatric hospital in June 1999 after trying to kill herself.

Hospital workers concerned about her children called CPS, who found the children and their father living with Andrea Yates' parents.

CPS spokeswoman Judy Hay previously has declined to release the name of the hospital.

Hay also said the hospital did not report to CPS that Yates suffered from postpartum depression. It reported only that she attempted suicide.

In the motion for a competency hearing, Odom stated he and Parnham have tried to interview Yates on "an almost daily basis" at the psychiatric unit in the Harris County Jail where she is under a suicide watch.

"The defendant appears not to have a rational or factual understanding of the proceedings against her," the motion stated.

Mental health experts who have examined her in jail also agree Yates does not understand the proceedings, the motion stated. The motion did not identify those experts.

In a separate affidavit filed by Odom, he wrote that Yates is currently in a psychotic state and as such would not be competent to stand trial.

"Although Mrs. Yates, on many occasions acknowledges my presence and can answer questions regarding routine matters, I have found her to be unable to consult with me, as her attorney, with a reasonable degree of rational understanding as to the proceedings against her," Odom wrote.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle