Russell Yates: No one told him Andrea was psychotic
HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Russell Yates tearfully described his wife's earlier suicide attempt and her history of mental illness Wednesday as attorneys tried to convince a Texas jury that Andrea Yates was insane when she drowned the couple's five children.
Yates broke down several times in the witness stand as he faced his wife for the first time in the courtroom.
He testified his wife's mental problems became evident after their fourth child, Luke, was born. Yates said his wife held a knife to her throat during a suicide attempt in 1999 and said, "Just let me do it."
When asked why they had another child, the NASA computer engineer said the couple did not think Andrea Yates was any risk because she had started taking anti-psychotic medications that seemed to be working.
"We didn't make the decision to have another child until she recovered from her first bout" with depression," Russell Yates, 37, testified. He said the couple had some of the best conversations they had ever had once she started taking the medications.
Russell Yates testified he never knew the extent of his wife's illness, and that no doctor had ever told him his wife had been diagnosed as psychotic.
"We didn't see her as a danger," he told the court. "She was obviously very sick, but she was taking her medication and we were waiting for these to kick in."
A psychiatrist testified earlier in the trial that Andrea Yates had stopped taking that medication in the weeks before the killings.
Andrea Yates is charged with two counts of capital murder in the deaths of three of the children, Noah, 7, John, 5, and Mary, 6 months. She is not on trial for the drownings of Luke, 3, and Paul, 2.
She has confessed to drowning the children but has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Prosecutors contend Yates, 37, knew what she was doing was wrong and that it was a premeditated act.
The defense Wednesday played a 10-minute home video of Andrea Yates playing with her children. The footage was especially intense because it was shown in silence, according to court rules.
Russell Yates was expected to take the stand again Thursday to face cross-examination. Andrea's mother, Jutta Karin Kennedy, was also expected to testify Thursday.
The family's testimony is a shift in gears for Yates' attorneys, who have presented days of dry, psychiatric testimony, describing her mental illness.
"It's long and laborious, but important, and it's the truth," defense lawyer George Burnham said Wednesday.
Before her mother and husband took the stand, her attorneys said they were concerned that it would be difficult for her to see them testify on her behalf, but they said it was important to put a personal face on the psychiatric testimony.
Her attorneys have called a series of psychiatrists, mental health professionals and other experts to testify about her mental state at the time of the killings.
Tuesday, Baylor College of Medicine neuropsychologist Dr. George Ringholz testified that Yates suffered an "acute psychotic episode" and "did not know that the actions she took on that day were wrong."
Ringholz diagnosed Yates as schizophrenic after studying her medical history and interviewing three family members.
Dr. Melissa Ferguson, a psychiatrist at the Harris County Jail, has testified that Yates was "one of the sickest patients I had ever seen" when she treated her after the June 20 killings.
Ferguson said Yates exhibited signs of paranoia and delusions -- saying "I am Satan" and wanting to shave her head to reveal the "mark of the beast," or 666, that she believed was on her scalp.
She said Yates had stopped taking her anti-psychotic medication in the weeks before the killings. It is unclear whether Yates stopped taking her medication on her own or whether the prescription had ended.
Currently, Ferguson said, Yates is taking a cocktail of four medications.
Under cross-examination, Ferguson said Yates told her she had thought about killing the children the night before she carried out the act.
Prosecutors rested their case last week. Later in the trial, when they will get a chance to rebut the defense's case, they are expected to call to the stand Dr. Parke Dietz, a UCLA psychiatrist famous for convincing a Wisconsin jury that serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was not insane.
--CNN Correspondents Ed Lavendera and David Mattingly contributed to this report.
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