February 2, 2006

Andrea Yates Leaves Jail for Treatment

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON -- Andrea Yates, the Texas mother awaiting retrial for drowning her five children, was released from jail on $200,000 bail on Thursday on condition she goes directly to a mental health facility for treatment.

Yates, who has been behind bars since the June 20, 2001, killings, said nothing as she walked out of Harris County Jail accompanied by her attorney, George Parnham, got into a car and was driven away.

She was wearing civilian clothes and clutching a paper bag containing her belongings.

Under an agreement with Judge Belinda Hill, who granted the $200,000 bail on Wednesday, she was to go directly to the state mental hospital in Rusk, north of Houston, and stay there until her new trial on March 20.

Yates, 41, has a long history of mental illness and experts testified at her first trial in 2002 she was suffering from postpartum psychosis when she drowned her children in the bathtub of their Houston home. They said she believed that by killing them she was saving them from the devil.

The former nurse pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The case became a cause celebre for mental health advocates who say postpartum depression is a serious, but often neglected illness. They said she should have received treatment, not prosecution.

Yates was in a state prison for the mentally ill when an appellate court last year overturned her conviction because of errant testimony by key prosecution witness Park Dietz, a psychiatrist, who said her crime and insanity defense matched an episode on the television crime drama "Law & Order," which prosecutors told the jury she watched regularly. It was later discovered that no such episode had been aired.

Parnham had sought her release from the county jail so she could be placed in the Rusk facility to receive better treatment for her chronic mental problems.

Yates' release, he said, "means a great deal for mental health and criminal justice."

On Wednesday, he told reporters she is "very mentally ill" and on heavy doses of anti-psychotic medicine.

While at the Rusk hospital, Yates will be on 24-hour lockdown and always escorted. If she attempts to leave, she will be returned to jail in Houston.

Parnham and prosecutors are discussing a plea bargain to avoid a trial.