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Jurors find Texas mother competent to stand trial in drowning deaths of her five children

The Associated Press
ABC News
Sept. 22, 2000

HOUSTON (AP) A jury of 11 women and one man decided Saturday that a mother who allegedly drowned her five children was competent to stand trial on capital murder charges.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against Andrea Yates, Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal has said.

Yates, 37, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to two counts of capital murder in the deaths of three of her children. Her family says she suffered from severe depression after the births of her children.

However, the jury decided after deliberating for more than eight hours over two days that Yates sufficiently understands the charges against her and has the ability to consult with her attorneys.

"We're glad right now that at least that issue has been decided," defense attorney George Parnham said. "It's time to get prepared to defend her."

Saturday's verdict means a date will be set for Yates' trial, for which a new jury will be chosen to decide whether she was sane or insane at the time of the drownings. If the jurors had found her incompetent, Yates would have begun treatment at a mental health facility with updates to the court every 90 days.

Parnham had argued that Yates needed more treatment.

"It would be impossible to relate to you our feelings," he said. "She's here, she'll be here. She's being cared for by the psychiatrists who not only take care of her mentally, but take care of every need she has."

A court order barred reporters from talking to jurors, said bailiff Harold Bittner.

Police said Yates called officers to her home on June 20 and admitted that she drowned the children one by one. John, 5; Paul; 3; Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months were found on a bed, their bodies still wet, and Noah, 7, was found dead in the bathtub.

One of the counts lists the killings of Noah and John, as two victims killed during the commission of the same crime, to qualify for capital punishment. The second count lists the death of Mary as a child under the age of 6.

By not listing all of the children in a single count, prosecutors avoid the possibility that a acquittal could void all of the charges. If necessary, they could file charges later in the deaths of the other two youngsters.

Yates' husband, Russell Yates, has said she suffered from postpartum depression after the fourth and fifth children were born.

During a hearing that started Wednesday, doctors testifying for the prosecution and defense offered different opinions on whether Yates was competent to stand trial.

During closing arguments Friday, Parnham told jurors they should find Yates incompetent so she could continue to recover from psychotic features of her mental illness.

"What's the rush?" Parnham said. "Give her the benefit of the ability to be cognizant of what she did ... to be able to defend herself in a proper manner."

Prosecutor Joe Owmby told jurors the defense was confusing the issues.

"The issue is whether she is presently competent, not whether she has a mental disease," Owmby argued. "She has to have a trial, and she's competent to have that trial today."

Yates' medical records show that after she tried twice to commit suicide in 1999, she told a doctor she wanted to kill herself so she wouldn't hurt anyone else. The doctor warned Yates that she should consider her own well-being before having more children, and noted that additional births would guarantee future psychotic depression.

A little more than a year later, Yates gave birth to her fifth child.

Yates was hospitalized again earlier this year because her husband feared she wasn't eating or drinking enough. She was released in May.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.

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