Psychologist testifies mother insane when she drowned children

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

HOUSTON -- Andrea Yates was legally insane when she drowned her five children in the family bathtub last June, a psychologist testified Tuesday at her capital murder trial.

Dr. George Ringholz, a neuropsychologist from Baylor College of Medicine, said he reached that conclusion after studying her medical and family history and tests he conducted on the 37-year-old woman.

"Mrs. Yates was severely ill and in the course of an acute psychotic episode," Ringholz said in his second day on the witness stand. "She did not know the actions she took on that day were wrong."

Yates has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. If jurors accept Ringholz's assessment, it could save her from life in prison or death by injection.

Death penalty sought

To prove insanity, Yates' lawyers must show the Houston woman suffered from a severe mental disease and didn't know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the drownings. Prosecutors argue Yates was sane when she killed her children and they are seeking the death penalty.

Ringholz testified that Yates suffered from schizophrenia and was unaware of her actions, adding: "She was mentally in a fog that was just clearing." She had significant impairment in functioning and displayed many signs of the illness, including hallucinations, delusions, incoherence and isolation, he said.

Yates is being tried on capital murder counts in the deaths of 7-year-old Noah, 5-year-old John and 6-month-old Mary. Charges could be filed in the deaths of Paul, 3, and Luke, 2.

Once the defense lawyers rest their case, prosecutors will have the chance to call rebuttal witnesses to challenge Yates' insanity claims. In Texas, a person is presumed sane.

If jurors determine Yates is innocent but insane, a hearing will be held at which she either will be released or involuntarily committed. If jurors convict her, they must determine if she poses a danger to society to sentence her to life rather than death.

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