USA Today

Page 1A August 28, 2001

Coalition supports Houston mom

By Laura Parker

A Texas mother accused of drowning her five children was embraced Monday by a coalition of activist groups that say she needs treatment for mental illness and should not face the death penalty.

The National Organization for Women and several anti-death penalty groups announced support for Andrea Yates, who faces capital murder charges in the deaths of her children on June 20.

The case has drawn national attention and renewed debate over the insanity defense, mental illness and the death penalty. The coalition is encouraging sympathizers to donate to Yates' defense fund.

Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

''This case has touched a nerve,'' said Beatrice Fowler of the American Civil Liberties Union. ''Every single woman I have spoken to has had the same reaction I had: What could she have possibly been going through for her to take that kind of action? It's not real.''

The coalition in a news conference on Monday also launched a public education campaign on mental illness and depression.

Proponents of the death penalty have urged that Yates be put to death because of the magnitude of the crime.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has explained that he sought the death penalty to give jurors a full range of options.

Although Yates, 37, has admitted to drowning all five children, she is charged with the deaths of only three. Prosecutors in Texas generally avoid multiple murder charges because one conviction can carry the maximum penalty.

A hearing is set for Sept. 12 to determine whether Yates is mentally competent to stand trial. Her lawyers say she is not, but a court-appointed psychiatrist found that she is.

Yates was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of her fourth child. Family members have said that her condition worsened after the birth of the fifth. She was hospitalized for depression at least twice in the months before the drownings and had threatened suicide.

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