- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

HOUSTON (AP) Facing his wife across the courtroom, Russell Yates calmly described to a jury yesterday how she tried to commit suicide two years before she drowned their five children.
He said Andrea Yates tried to kill herself in 1999 by overdosing on her father's sleeping pills. She was treated and released but three weeks later was found with a knife to her throat.
Mr. Yates said he got the knife away from her, but then decided to put off further action until her appointment the next day with a psychiatrist who was treating her for severe postpartum depression.
His lawyer asked why Mr. Yates didn't call the doctor right away.
"In hindsight, I guess I should have," Mr. Yates said. "We thought we could keep an eye on her."
Mrs. Yates, 37, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the June 20 drownings in the family's bathtub. She could face the death penalty if convicted of capital murder in the deaths of 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary. Charges could be filed later in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.
Mr. Yates smiled at his wife as he entered the courtroom, and then told jurors the two decided to have a fifth child, against the advice of a psychiatrist, despite Mrs. Yates' bout with postpartum depression after the birth of their fourth son. He said he thought she had been cured.
Mr. Yates, who sometimes rocked nervously on the witness stand, described what he thought were his wife's nervous habits, such as picking at her hair and constantly carrying around their newest baby.
"We didn't see her as a danger," Mr. Yates said of the behavior, which followed the birth of Luke, their fourth child.
"She was obviously very sick," he testified. "We were just sitting and waiting to see if [medication] worked."
At the time, Mrs. Yates was being treated by Dr. Eileen Starbranch.
The psychiatrist testified earlier yesterday, saying she remembered Mrs. Yates as being "warm and loving" with her four sons for the five months she was under her care. But she warned the Yateses against having more children to help avoid psychosis at a later date.
Dr. Starbranch also said it was a joint decision by the couple that Mrs. Yates should stop her medication.
Mr. Yates also testified that the doctor initiated that decision and warned of a 50 percent chance his wife would again suffer from psychosis if she had another child.
"She said if we did have any more children she would like to start Andrea on an antidepressant early," Mr. Yates said.
Dr. Starbranch said when she counseled the couple against having more children, neither of them reacted strongly. A medical chart note on Aug. 18, 1999, the day the doctor gave the advice, reads:
"Apparently patient and husband plan to have as many babies as nature will allow!" the psychiatrist wrote. "This will surely guarantee future psychotic depression."


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