- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

HOUSTON — Whether Andrea Yates, 37, was legally insane when she drowned her five children June 20 — then calmly phoned her husband and the police to tell them what she had done — may be answered only after lengthy psychiatric debate and deeper insights into the effects and treatment of postpartum depression.
Whether she is competent now to aid her lawyers as state prosecutors go for the death penalty will be determined in a hearing in Houston on Sept. 12.
Though state District Judge Brenda Hill has slapped a strict gag order on those connected with the case, sources have told The Washington Times and other media representatives that Mrs. Yates has been responding to psychiatric treatment so well that the competency hearing may be moot.
"I've never seen her this happy," her brother, Andrew Kennedy, said last week, "at least not for many years."
Mr. Kennedy, who often visits his sister in the Harris County Jail's mental health wing, said Mrs. Yates was "positive and upbeat" and has been reading voraciously, particularly the Bible.
She has been making regular telephone calls to family members, he said, and has even helped other inmates with personal problems and concerns. He did not elaborate.
Family members have said that Mrs. Yates had been unable to discuss even normal and reasonable issues the first few weeks of her incarceration but that recently she had "come around." "Now she's getting the medication that she needed," said Mr. Kennedy, "and they are counseling her, talking to her. She's getting better treatment in the jail that she ever got on the outside."
Mrs. Yates' husband, NASA engineer Russell Yates, has stood by his wife, claiming she suffered from severe postpartum depression and should not have been taken off the antipsychotic drug Haldol. Without the drug, family members claim, she deteriorated into a deep psychosis that resulted in her drowning the five children, ages 6 months to 7 years.
Mr. Yates refused comment last week, referring to the judge's gag order, but he announced he had hired a local lawyer to represent him and Mrs. Yates. His wife already is represented by veteran criminal lawyer George Parnham, so the hiring Friday of local lawyer Edward Mallett was interpreted as the first step in possible civil litigation against doctors and psychiatrists who treated Mrs. Yates.
"They should have never taken her off her medication," he said a few days after the murders. "She was improving, and she and I both begged them to keep her on it."
Several hundred pages of documents filed late Friday in court here amplify on Mrs. Yates' mental decline — from a suicide attempt in 1999 after the birth of her fourth child, to times when she heard "voices" that told her to "get a knife, get a knife" and stab somebody.
Though Mr. Yates and her family have said repeatedly that Haldol had helped ease her out of her depressive states, medical records filed indicate she had improved only minutely, if at all, over those weeks.
Records indicate Mrs. Yates was in the Devereux Treatment Network center in suburban League City from March 31 to April 12 this year, and her husband returned her there from May 4 to May 14, saying she had become more depressed and refused to eat. Psychiatrist Mohammed Saeed counseled her then and released her after 10 days, saying she was not suicidal.
At the time, she was prescribed three different antidepressant, antipsychotic drugs. Mr. Yates indicated in August that the prescriptions lapsed "a few weeks before" the tragic drownings.
Dr. Saeed could not be reached for comment. He testified before a Harris County grand jury — the one that indicted Mrs. Yates for murder — but has not spoken publicly.
Because she has improved so notably since she was incarcerated, some people, including Mr. Kennedy, believe there is little chance that she will be ruled incompetent to stand trial in the hearing later this month. "We just have to take this one step at a time," said one relative, who insisted on anonymity. "She's back to normal for the first time in years. She has written me. She even shows some wry humor. This is not the person who killed those lovely children."

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