Houston Chronicle

Aug. 30, 2001, 11:58PM

Brother says Yates 'talking more'

Antipsychotic drug seen aiding mother held in deaths of 5 kids

By RUTH RENDON
Houston Chronicle

After two months of incarceration, Andrea Pia Yates, the Clear Lake mother who has admitted to drowning her five children, is slowly getting better and is being treated with an antipsychotic drug often prescribed to those hearing voices, her brother said Thursday.

Since her arrest at her suburban home on June 20, Yates, who was then described as being in a zombie-like state, is getting along with fellow inmates in a psychiatric unit of the Harris County Jail, Andrew Kennedy said of his youngest sister.

"She's continuing to improve," said Kennedy, who last spoke to his sister over the weekend. "She is coherent and talking more."

When Yates was arrested in connection with the deaths of her children -- Noah, 7; John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months -- her husband, Russell, spoke in her defense, saying she had been suffering from severe depression. She allegedly drowned the children in the bathtub at her home.

Yates is charged with capital murder in the deaths of Noah, John and Mary. A competency hearing, to determine if she is able to stand trial, is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said he is seeking the death penalty to allow jurors a full range of punishment options.

State District Judge Belinda Hill has imposed a gag order on all parties involved in the case.

Kennedy said his sister is taking Haldol, the potent prescription drug given to psychotic patients hearing voices or thinking delusionally. He said his sister also is taking other medications but was not certain which ones.

Doctors have said that patients taking Haldol function normally but are subject to relapses when taken off the medication and are at risk of injuring themselves or others.

A day after the drownings, Russell Yates told reporters his wife had been on Haldol but had been taken off the medication. He said his wife was taking Effexor and Remeron, both antidepressants, at the time of the killings and was taking Wellbutrin, an antidepressant.

Kennedy said his brother-in-law had been pleading with doctors to put his wife back on the Haldol medication.

When first jailed, Andrea Yates, 37, was under suicide watch and was held in isolation. Her brother said she would mostly cry and had a blank stare. She has since been moved into a cell with other psychiatric inmates.

She spends her day visiting with other inmates, cleaning her cell, exercising, reading letters and talking to a chaplain, Kennedy said.

"She is doing real good. She's helping them out," Kennedy said of his sister aiding fellow inmates. "She called my mom and got my mom to look up a number for somebody's mother."

Kennedy said he was not sure if his sister is allowed to read the Chronicle or watch television but that she is aware of the news coverage of her case.

"She's heard about some of the stories. I'm not sure how she found out about it," Kennedy said. "She heard that they are kind of jumping on (Russell) Rusty (Yates) a little bit and she was upset about that. She doesn't think it is fair."

Letters to the editor in the Chronicle, listeners to radio call-in shows and correspondence sent to Rosenthal have questioned whether Russell Yates should also be held responsible for the children's deaths. Especially, they say, because he left his mentally ill wife alone with the children.

Legal experts, however, say that, under Texas law, he did not commit a crime.

Kennedy said his sister enjoys reading letters she gets from family friends. She also has received letters from the public but "she doesn't say much" about them, he said.

Russell Yates, meanwhile, has returned to his job as a computer engineer at NASA and is living in the family's Spanish-style brick home.

Kennedy said he doesn't talk to his brother-in-law often but said, "I think he's doing pretty good. ... I would call him for a while and he would never call. I guess it's maybe his way of dealing with it."

Kennedy added, "He plays golf. He's got some friends. It's hard. He's such a quiet person. We used to do family activities together and that's about it. Him and Andrea are pretty well alike. They just didn't share a lot of stuff."

Russell Yates, who the judge has said is under the gag order, has set up a Web site so anyone can "visit" the five children.

The Yates Kids Home Page -- reachable at www.yateskids.org -- is filled with pictures of the children. Visitors also can view the bright artwork made by Noah, John and Paul.

The site is divided by each child and also includes family pictures and a picture of the Yateses' living room filled with the stuffed animals left on a makeshift shrine in front of the house in the days after the drownings. Photos of a memorial monument for the children that is under construction also is shown.

"The purpose of this Web page is to honor the memory of our children, Noah, John, Paul, Luke, and Mary, who died tragically on June 20, 2001. I'd like this to be a place that anyone can go to `visit' the children. It is a work in progress; pictures and text will be added over time," reads the home page, which lists Rusty Yates as the curator.

The site also gives the address of a defense fund set up by Andrea Yates' lawyers.

"The state, who will reportedly spend one million tax dollars to prosecute Andrea, is seeking the death penalty against her. Any funds received in excess of what's required to defend Andrea will be donated to causes for women's mental health issues, particularly postpartum depression and psychosis. Contributions may be sent to the address below," according to the site.

Kennedy said the defense fund has not received many donations "so far" but noted "it's still real early."

The National Organization for Women recently announced its support of Andrea Yates and is raising awareness about the fund, as well as her mental illness.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle