Visions of Satan

HOUSTON, Sept. 19--A Texas mother accused of drowning her five children said she heard Satan's voice and saw him in the walls of her jail cell after the killings, a psychologist who evaluated her testified today.

The testimony came on the first day of a hearing to determine if Andrea Yates is mentally competent to face a capital murder trial that could end with her being sentenced to die.
A jury of 11 women and one man, chosen Tuesday, must decide if Yates has the mental capacity to understand, participate and assist in her trial defense.

Gerald Harris, a clinical psychologist at the University of Houston, said Yates, 37, described her Satanic hallucinations in two of four interviews he had conducted with her since her arrest June 20.

"She told me Satan was talking to her. She said she had seen images of Satan in the walls, in the cinder blocks of her cell," Harris said under questioning from defense attorney George Parnham.

During those two visits, which occurred five and nine days after the drownings, Yates was obviously psychotic, near-catatonic and often took two minutes to process and answer a question, Harris said.

Prosecution Set to Begin Case

Yates, looking slightly more lively and less emaciated than in previous court appearances, sat silently beside her lawyers throughout the hearing. The defense rested its case after calling three witnesses today. The prosecution is set to begin its case Thursday.

Investigators say Yates drowned her five children, age 6 months to 7 years, in a bathtub June 20 and then called police and her husband moments later to confess what she had done.

Harris County prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and have filed two sets of capital murder charges to widen their chances of a conviction.

Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity before State District Judge Belinda Hill, and her attorneys hope their insanity defense will put their client in a psychiatric hospital instead of the Texas death chamber, the nation's busiest.

Understanding Postpartum Depression

Supported by medical records, her attorneys argue Yates suffered from severe postpartum depression that began after the birth of her fourth child and worsened after her fifth.

She is supported by her husband, NASA computer engineer Russell Yates, who blames the killings and his wife's three suicide attempts on the disease.

Yates, a former nurse, has been in the psychiatric wing of the Harris County Jail taking anti-psychotic medication, including Haldol, since her arrest. Parnham, in his brief opening statement, said Yates' doctors discontinued her prescription for similar drugs 16 days before the killings.

Prosecutor Joe Owmby questioned Harris over Yates' understanding of her situation.

"She has an IQ of 113, she knows the roles of her lawyers, of the judge. Doesn't she have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against her?" Owmby asked during his cross-examination.

"She does not have a complete understanding," Harris replied.

The hearing is expected to last two or three days and include testimony from several mental health professionals. If the jury finds Yates incompetent, she will be committed to a state mental hospital until she is deemed fit to stand trial.
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