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Lawyer says Texas mother had 'psychotic episode'

George Parnham  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- The lawyer for a Texas woman accused of killing her five children said Monday his client suffered from an "acute psychosis" and an insanity plea was likely.

"I have not made a definite decision related to this plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but we're pointed in that direction," said George Parnham, the lawyer representing Andrea Yates.

Yates is charged with five counts of capital murder in the deaths of children, who ranged in age from 6 months to 7 years. All were drowned in the bathtub of their home in suburban Houston.

"I believe the evidence will suggest that there is a progression from a simple 'baby blues' depression, which apparently up to 70 percent of women have experienced after childbirth, to a gradual slippage into a depression, ending up with a psychotic episode that basically took her out of the real world," Parnham told CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports."


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In an earlier appearance on CNN's "Burden of Proof," Parnham said Yates is "in the depths of an acute psychosis." She is being treated by staff psychiatrists in the Harris County jail in Houston and is under a suicide watch.

She has met with Parnham and several members of her family, including her husband and mother, since her arrest. But Parnham said he has not been able to discuss the case against Yates with her in any detail.

CNN's Ed Lavandera has more on the tragic events that occurred in Houston, Texas (June 25)

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Russell Yates pledges to stand by his wife. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports (June 21)

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"Whether or not she is able to comprehend the nature and circumstances of the events that put her into the jail, and whether or not she is able to comprehend what I am talking to her about, remains to be seen," he said.

With medication, Yates will "in all probability regain a level of competency that will permit me to properly and effectively talk with her and prepare in our defense," Parnham said.

Her husband, Russell Yates, said last week his wife suffered from postpartum depression and had attempted suicide after the birth of their fourth son in 1999. She recovered, but the birth of their first daughter -- the couple's fifth child -- combined with the death of her father had spurred another episode, he said.

Yates said his wife had become withdrawn and "robotic" in her movements in the three weeks before the killings.

Forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner told CNN the kind of postpartum psychosis Parnham describes is extremely rare -- and typically begins and recedes within days of childbirth.

People continue to leave flowers, candles and letters outside the Yates family home.  

"There are stories, a number of stories, where women have become uncharacteristically violent and homicidal, and those are the characteristics that are associated with our appreciating postpartum psychosis as an emergent situation. It's the break from reality, not so much the depression," Welner told CNN's "Burden of Proof."


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