Houston Chronicle

Aug. 28, 2001, 12:25AM

Several groups rally behind drive to assist Yates

Houston Chronicle

Several anti-death penalty groups and women's advocates are endorsing the Andrea Pia Yates Support Coalition, a group organized by the Houston Area National Organization for Women to help the Clear Lake mother accused of drowning her five children.

During a news conference Monday, members from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation-Texas announced their support of Yates.

Most are rallying behind the mother because, they said, she suffers from depression and psychosis. They said she needs medical treatment rather than to be sent to prison or possibly sentenced to death.

Yates, 37, faces capital murder charges in the deaths of three of her children -- Noah, 7, John, 5, and Mary, 6 months. The mother called police to her home June 20 and admitted drowning the children along with siblings Paul, 3, and Luke, 2, in the bathtub.

Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to two charges of capital murder. Her family said she suffers and has been treated for severe depression during the past two years.

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal said his office will seek the death penalty to give a jury a full range of punishment options.

Dave Atwood, a member of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said society would not benefit from Yates' execution.

"Her death would be only one more tragic and painful event for this family," Atwood said.

Beatrice Mladenka Fowler, of the ACLU, called Rosenthal's decision "appalling."

"Andrea Pia Yates was mentally ill," Fowler said. "It's a travesty her condition wasn't treated."

Fowler urged Rosenthal to reconsider, adding that with medication Yates' condition could be controlled. Yates had been on a series of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs, her husband, Russell Yates, has said.

Because state District Judge Belinda Hill has imposed a gag order on all parties in the case, neither Rosenthal's office nor defense lawyers can comment on the coalition.

The state president of NOW, Deborah Bell, said new members and endorsers are joining the coalition daily.

Other groups backing the coalition include the Monica Lamb Wellness Foundation, Italian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Texas Moratorium Network, Moratorium March Network, The Amazon Xociety, Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement, Houston Peace and Justice Center, The Women's Group and several individuals.

Not all responses to the coalition's efforts have been positive. Bell said the coalition has been bombarded with hate e-mail and phone calls.

Bell said many opponents describe Yates as "a monster."

"They say she doesn't deserve to live. ... They are totally irrational and very hateful," Bell said. "They haven't heard the full story as neither have we. ... They don't understand the depth of the psychosis that Andrea was suffering."

In addition to focusing on ways to help women who suffer depression and offer support to Yates and her family, the support coalition is spreading the word about a defense fund set up by Yates' attorneys.

They are planning a Sept. 11 candlelight vigil outside the Harris County Jail where Yates is being held in the psychiatric unit under a suicide watch.

A competency hearing has been set for Sept. 12 for a jury to decide whether Yates is able to stand trial.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle