Psychologist: woman accused of drowning her five children competent to stand trial

Friday, September 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ A psychologist testified that a woman accused of drowning her five children is mentally ill, but is competent to stand trial.

Dr. Steven Rubenzer, testifying for the prosecution Thursday at a competency hearing for Andrea Yates, said Yates is just now starting to come to terms with her mental illness.

When he tested Yates in July, Rubenzer said, she passed two parts of a three-part test but did poorly when it came to ``her ability to appraise her situation within the court system. Her score on that scale was very low.''

But he said she's improved.

``As far as I know, her psychotic features are in full remission,'' he said, but added, ``Her depression is not in full remission.''

Under cross-examination, Rubenzer acknowledged he still questions Yates' ability to appreciate her situation.

``Would it be fair to say the better she gets, given everything you know, the more fully she will appreciate what she did?'' defense attorney George Parnham asked.

``I think so,'' Rubenzer responded.

``She's not quite there yet, is she?'' Parnham asked.

``I don't think so,'' the court-appointed psychologist said.

Rubenzer also said Yates told him she decided to drown her five children the night before the crime. He said when Yates made this disclosure, he asked her to tell him nothing more.

``I believed I had enough information to establish she was able to talk about these things,'' Rubenzer said. ``I didn't want to pull out any more information than was necessary.''

Police say Yates, 37, admitted killing her five children. The four youngest _ John, 5; Paul; 3; Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months _ were found wet on a bed under a sheet. Noah, 7, was found dead in a bathtub. Yates has been charged with capital murder.

Yates' husband said she suffered from depression after the births of her two youngest children. Medical records submitted to the court show that Yates attempted suicide twice after the birth of her fourth child and was warned by a doctor to carefully consider whether she should have any more children.

Yates told a psychologist she believes she should die in order to destroy herself and Satan, according to testimony Wednesday.

If the jury finds Yates competent, a separate jury must determine her guilt or innocence. She has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity.

The district attorney's office has said it will seek the death penalty if jurors find Yates competent.

To be deemed competent, Yates must have a rational and factual understanding of the case against her and be able to consult with her attorneys.

Closing arguments in the competency hearing are expected Friday.

Testifying on Thursday, a nurse who has treated Yates since she was jailed after her June arrest testified that she is improving. But he added that he remains worried about her mental health.

Yates was at first catatonic but now smiles, reads and plays dominoes, John Bayliss said. But he described her as having ``a lack of luster in her eyes.''

``When I speak to her, she always tends to give me the same answer,'' he said.