Mother had murder in mind for three months

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Andrea Yates thought about killing her five children over a period of about three months and considered three different ways of doing it, the jury in her murder trial in Houston, Texas, heard yesterday.

Testifying under cross-examination, Melissa Ferguson, a jail psychiatrist, said Ms Yates, who faces a possible death sentence if found guilty, had settled on drowning the children only after she had rejected giving them an overdose of drugs or stabbing them.

Dr Ferguson interviewed Ms Yates – who has a history of mental difficulties, including two suicide attempts in 1999 – after police found her children drowned in her home in Houston in June last year.

The assistant district attorney, Kaylynn Williford, asked Dr Ferguson if she remembered Ms Yates saying she had "decided drowning would be the best way to end their life". Dr Ferguson replied that Ms Yates had said "something about drowning, that drowning was the way". Asked by Ms Williford if she recalled Mrs Yates saying, "I decided a knife was too bloody," Dr Ferguson said yes.

While the defence is arguing Ms Yates is innocent on grounds of insanity, prosecutors claim she knew exactly what she was doing when she killed Noah, seven, John, five, Paul, three, Luke, two, and Mary, six months.