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July 3, 2001

Mother charged in kids' drowning says devil is to blame

Insanity defence expected

The Associated Press
National Post

DALLAS, Texas - A mother charged with drowning her five children in a bathtub told family members from jail that she thinks the devil is in her, her brother said.

Andrea Yates, 36, asked visiting siblings last week whether her children had been buried and told them during a Sunday visit that she feared she was possessed, her brother Andrew Kennedy told The Dallas Morning News.

"She asked me and my brother, 'How long do you think the devil's been in me?' " Mr. Kennedy said. "I guess she's looking for answers as to why she did what she did."

Mrs. Yates told police she drowned her children one by one last week in their suburban Houston home. The youngest was 6 months old; the oldest, 7 years.

Prosecutors said they will decide within three weeks whether to seek the death penalty.

But several legal experts said it's unlikely Mrs. Yates will face a death sentence.

"It's important to keep this in perspective: Death rows are not filled with family murderers," said Jordan Steiker, a professor and death penalty expert at the University of Texas Law School.

Mrs. Yates' attorney, George Parnham, has said he will likely use an insanity defence, which might prove effective.

"Statistically you have a much better chance of prevailing in an insanity defence if it's a violent crime and if you kill a member of your own family," said Houston criminal defence attorney George Secrest.

"Also, women fare better than men in these types of cases," said Mr. Secrest, who successfully defended a woman accused of killing her baby in 1997.

Mr. Kennedy said his family had been increasingly worried about his sister's mental health during the past six months, and one of her longtime friends was concerned enough that she kept a detailed diary of her emotional decline.

The family feared she might kill herself, but "we never dreamed she'd kill our kids," he said.

Mrs. Yates told police she killed the children -- Noah, 7, John, 5, Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months -- because she thought she was a bad mother and they were hopelessly developmentally damaged.

Her husband, NASA engineer Russell Yates, has said he believed his wife was suffering from "psychotic side effects" of post-partum depression.

Mr. Kennedy said his sister began receiving treatment for her most recent emotional problems this spring after she put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill herself.

She was first treated for depression after trying to kill herself in June, 1999, with an overdose of her late father's medication for Alzheimer's disease.

"Just about everybody in the family has had problems with depression," Mr. Kennedy said.

Mrs. Yates has been charged with one count of capital murder. Authorities said other charges might follow.

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