- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

HOUSTON (AP) Andrea Yates had a history of suicide attempts and was so psychotic that her delusions drove her to drown her children in their bathtub, Yates' attorney told jurors yesterday in the opening arguments of her capital murder trial.
Mrs. Yates suffered from postpartum depression with psychotic features, "the cruelest and most severe of mental illnesses," defense attorney George Parnham said.
"It takes the very nature and essence of motherhood to nurture, to protect and to love and changes the reality," he said.
Prosecutors seeking the death penalty for Andrea Yates agreed she suffered from a mental illness but contended she was well aware her actions were wrong when she held each of her children beneath water until they could no longer breathe.
"She knew this was an illegal thing," Harris County Assistant District Attorney Joe Owmby said during opening statements. "It was a sin. She knew it was wrong."
Mrs. Yates, 37, fidgeted and pulled at her fingers as she sat at the defense table. She is charged with two counts of capital murder for the June 20 drownings of three of her five children, ages 6 months to 7 years. She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
She could wind up in a mental institution, in prison or on death row.
Mr. Parnham said the evidence during the expected three-week trial will show that psychosis so clouded Mrs. Yates' mind that she didn't know what she was doing, let alone that it was wrong.
"Our experts will tell you that the psychosis and the delusions that caused a loving mother to do what occurred on the 20th of June were so severe, that it was so long-standing, that Andrea Yates' ability to think in abstract terms, to give narrative responses, to be able to connect the dots, was impaired," Mr. Parnham said.
Mr. Owmby said, however, that there were many signs that Mrs. Yates knew what she was doing was wrong. Mr. Owmby said Mrs. Yates told police that she should go to hell for what she had done and that she waited to drown the children until her husband, Russell, left for work because he would have stopped her.
"Andrea Yates had a mental illness," Mr. Owmby said. "She also called the police after she killed these children."
Jurors heard Mrs. Yates' 911 call yesterday as testimony began. Requesting police and an ambulance, she told the dispatcher she was "ill" but did not elaborate. When dispatcher Dorene Stubblefield asked if she was alone, Mrs. Yates said, "No, my kids are here."
During the call, Mrs. Yates paused frequently and breathed heavily.
Mr. Owmby said police arrived at the home to find four of the children's bodies on a bed under a sheet. Six-month-old Mary's head was cradled in 5-year-old John's arm. Noah, 7, was floating face down in the bathtub with his arms outstretched.
Mr. Owmby said the children struggled for their lives.
"The breath was taken out of their bodies by the defendant, Andrea Pia Yates," he said.
Mrs. Yates' extensive medical records detail her bouts with depression and two suicide attempts. They also document her fear that she might hurt someone and a doctor's caution after Luke was born in 1999 that the couple reconsider having more children to avoid future psychosis.
If Mrs. Yates is found innocent, a hearing will be held at least 30 days later, when she will either be released or involuntarily committed.

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