Houston Chronicle

Aug. 23, 2001, 11:16PM

NOW creates coalition to raise funds for Yates

Spotlight placed on depression issue

Houston Chronicle

The Houston Area National Organization for Women is rallying support for Andrea Pia Yates, the Clear Lake mother who has admitted to drowning her five children.

In addition to forming the Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition, the local chapter of NOW plans to help raise money for Yates' defense fund, the organization's state president said Thursday.

The women's rights group also said it will offer support to Yates' husband, Russell.

Meanwhile, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has received correspondence critical of Russell Yates.

Of the 72 e-mails and letters Rosenthal received regarding whether Andrea Yates should be punished by death, some said Russell Yates should be held accountable, too. Seventeen blasted him for leaving the children with his wife because, they said, he knew she was mentally unstable.

Andrea Yates, 37, faces capital murder charges in the deaths of three of her children -- sons Noah, 7, John, 5, and Mary, 6 months. She is not charged with the other children's deaths, but prosecutors plan to present evidence about the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2, during trial.

The mother, who relatives said suffered severe depression, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

So far, the support coalition has not taken in any money for Yates, but the president of Texas NOW said fund-raisers could be in the works.

"Right now we're just giving out information about the defense fund," said Deborah Bell of Houston. "We're trying to bring attention to this issue and attention to the fund."

The fund was established at Horizon Bank by Yates' hired lawyers after Rosenthal announced he would seek the death penalty. Rosenthal said the decision was made to give a jury a full range of punishment options.

Yates called Houston police to her home in the 900 block of Beachcomber on June 20 and admitted drowning the children in the bathtub. Russell Yates told police his wife was depressed and had been medically treated for her condition. She is under suicide watch in the psychiatric unit of the Harris County Jail.

Shortly after Andrea Yates was arrested, NOW adopted a resolution regarding postpartum depression during a national conference, Bell said. The resolution urges the judiciary to "consider tragedies of this sort in the full context of the nature of postpartum depression," and calls for more research into the illness.

The coalition also plans to hold a candlelight vigil the night before a competency hearing on whether Yates is fit to stand trial. The hearing is set for Sept. 12. Other support efforts are in the works, including a court watch, a march and an educational forum.

Bell said despite the criticism of Russell Yates, the local coalition is in place to support all of the Yates family.

"As long as he is standing by her, we are standing by him," Bell said.

Some of Rosenthal's mail regarding Russell Yates questioned why the husband was not being criminally prosecuted.

Her lawyers have said she suffered a prolonged history of mental disease and defect, including two prior hospitalizations, at least two attempts of suicide and prior diagnosis of major depression and postpartum depression with psychosis.

"It was evident she was not well for some time and her husband was fully aware of it," wrote one person, who was against the death penalty in this case. "He needs to be arrested as an accomplice."

"He is just as guilty," wrote another, who thinks the mother should be put to death. "He did not protect his children against a very dangerous woman. . . . He should be charged and sent to prison."

A lawyer not involved with the case said Russell Yates committed no crime.

Under Texas law, an accomplice is defined as someone who intentionally aided, solicited or encouraged a crime to be committed, Brian Wice said.

A neglect charge against the husband would not be feasible either because there is no evidence the mother abused, starved or neglected the children, Wice said.

"Should he have been able to look into the future and seen that she was going to snap? No. Mental illness isn't a justification that someone is going to violate the law with impunity, particularly when it concerns your own flesh and blood.

"He may be condemned, and rightfully so, in the court of public opinion, but there is no legal basis for him to stand trial in a court of law."

Former District Attorney John B. Holmes Jr., who was regarded nationally for his tough stance on seeking death penalties, also weighed in on the subject.

"It's (seeking death) the right call," Holmes wrote in an e-mail. "That is why I had a reputation of going for it so much. It is part of the range. Amazingly the public went for it most of the times that we included it in the range. I suspect your experience will be the same."

Rosenthal could not comment on the e-mails because state District Judge Belinda Hill has imposed a gag order on all parties involved in the case. Under an open records request, the Chronicle received Rosenthal's correspondence because they are public record.

Not all of Rosenthal's responses were included. But of the ones that were, he typically answered that his decision was based on evidence and applicable law.

"I do all of this after seeking wisdom from God," Rosenthal wrote one person. "My oath of office requires me follow the law without consideration of public opinion."

The correspondence was sent unsolicited and is not a scientific sampling of how the community feels.

Twenty were for death by lethal injection. Twenty-nine were against. An e-mail from Vote.com, an Internet voting site, said its poll showed 729 were for seeking death in this case, while 495 were against it.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle