Mom who drowned children goes to trial

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

HOUSTON -- Andrea Yates had a history of suicide attempts and was so psychotic that her delusions drove her to drown her children in their bathtub, a defense attorney told jurors Monday as her capital murder trial got under way.

Prosecutors agreed she suffered from a mental illness but contended Yates was well aware her actions were wrong when she held each of her children beneath water until they could no longer breathe.

Defense attorney George Parnham said his client suffered from postpartum depression with psychotic features, "the cruelest and most severe of mental illnesses."

"It takes the very nature and essence of motherhood -- to nurture, to protect and to love -- and changes the reality," he said.

'It was a sin'

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 innocent by reason of insanity.

She could wind up in a mental institution, prison or on death row.

"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."

Officer David Knapp testified that when Yates opened the door to her house the morning of June 20, her hair and clothes were wet. She said she called police because she had killed her kids, Knapp said.

The officer noticed wet footprints on the floor in the entrance, kitchen and living areas and said it appeared one set belonged to an adult and the second to a child.

As Yates led him into the master bedroom, Knapp saw a small arm protruding from a sheet on a bed. He pulled back the cover and said he saw John, 5; Paul, 3; Luke, 2; and Mary, 6 months. Another officer, who arrived minutes later, found 7-year-old Noah face down in the bathtub, Knapp testified.

Eyes wide open

Knapp said Yates showed no emotion, answered his questions in a monotone voice and followed instructions to sit down and show identification.

"Her eyes were wider than what I'd consider normal," Knapp said.

Parnham said the evidence during the expected three-week trial will show that psychosis so clouded Yates' mind that she didn't know what she was doing, let alone that it was wrong.

If Yates is found innocent, a hearing will be held at least 30 days later where she will either be released or involuntarily committed.

If convicted, jurors will have to determine if she is a future danger to society and if there is enough mitigating evidence to sentence her to life in prison rather than death.

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