Houston Chronicle

June 23, 2001

Stoic dad visits wife in jail

Family talks with woman held in drowning of 5 kids

Houston Chronicle

Russell Yates stoically approached the Harris County Jail on Friday afternoon, ready to see his wife for the first time since she admitted to drowning their five children.

He then joined members of his wife's family, including his mother-in-law, Jutta Karin Kennedy, and brother-in-law Pat Kennedy, who were waiting in the jail lobby.

The family, along with Houston defense attorney George Parnham, visited Andrea Pia Yates for about two hours. Although the family declined to comment, Parnham answered questions after the jailhouse visit.

"She is doing as well as can be expected, considering the circumstances, which I know you understand are extreme," said Parnham.

He declined to describe the details of what he called "a very personal" meeting between Yates and her family.

He said the family remains supportive of Yates, 36, who is charged with capital murder in the deaths of her sons Noah, 7, and John, 5.

Their bodies were found Wednesday in Yates' home in the 900 block of Beachcomber along with those of their siblings Paul, 3, Luke, 2, and Mary, 6 months. Police have said Yates has admitted to drowning her children in the family's bathtub.

Russell Yates has said his wife suffered from severe depression triggered by Mary's birth and the recent death of her father. She attempted suicide once after Luke's birth while suffering from apparent postpartum depression, he said.

In an audiotaped statement to police, Andrea Yates told authorities she drowned her younger sons and placed each boy on the bed in a back bedroom. As she began to drown her daughter, Noah walked in and asked, "What's wrong with Mary?" She then chased the 7-year-old through the house and dragged him back to the bathroom, where she drowned him next to the infant.

The woman told police she had been thinking for several months about killing the children, the Dallas Morning News reported in its online edition Friday.

Yates YatesAndrea Pia Yates and her husband, Russell, above, are shown in a family photo with their four boys, from left, John, Luke, Paul, and Noah. The couple's daughter, 6-month-old Mary, is at left.
"She essentially said she had realized that she was a bad mother and she felt that the children were disabled -- that they were not developing normally," an unidentified official familiar with details of the taped confession told the newspaper.

Tentative funeral arrangements have been set at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, a family spokeswoman said. Reportedly the services will be at Clear Lake Church of Christ. The children will be buried together in the Clear Lake area, but the location for the burial site had not been chosen.

Earlier Friday, the Clear Lake woman told a judge she could not afford to hire a lawyer in her capital murder case.

Andrea Yates walked into the hearing room Friday with her arms folded across her waist and stood motionless before 230th District Judge Belinda Hill.

Dressed in an orange jail uniform, Yates appeared calm and answered, "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" to Hill's questions of whether she understood the charges against her.

Hill appointed Bob Scott to represent Yates. Scott, who was in the courtroom during the hearing, immediately asked Hill to issue a gag order. Hill did not make a ruling.

Scott was assigned to the case, but Parnham said he would be the attorney.

Yates' hearing was closed to the public, but co-prosecutor Kaylynn Williford reported that she told Hill "basic facts" of the case.

"I said this offense occurred on the 20th and that she had taken the lives of her five children by drowning them," Williford said. "At this point, I did not go into any specifics. ... I'm still waiting on everything from the officers."

Karen Warren / Chronicle
Russell Yates and his mother-in-law, Jutta Karin Kennedy, listen as Andrea Pia Yates' newly appointed attorney, George Parnham, speaks to the media Friday afternoon in front of the Harris County Jail after Yates met with his wife. The man behind Yates is unidentified.
After Friday's hearing, Scott spent about 10 minutes talking to Yates in a side room before she was escorted back to the Harris County Jail, where she is being held in the wing reserved for prisoners with possible mental problems.

"There's someone there watching her to make sure she doesn't harm herself," said Lt. Robert Van Pelt, a Harris County sheriff's spokesman.

Harris County Assistant District Attorney Joe Owmby said his office has not decided whether to pursue further charges in the deaths of the other children.

"We haven't made all the charging decisions yet," Owmby said. "Usually in a charge of capital murder, all acts like that (the deaths of the other children) come into the trial anyway."

Williford said the Houston police homicide detectives and other investigators are still gathering information from the crime scene.

"This is a case that we need to get the evidence, look into all the facts and present this evidence to a jury for the jury to make a decision," Williford said.

John Everett / Chronicle
Representatives of the Houston police and the district attorney's office leave Russell and Andrea Pia Yates' Clear Lake home Friday.
Owmby said he anticipates the case will be presented to a grand jury within 30 days. He added that he has never seen a case as horrific.

"That's not an everyday occurrence anywhere. It's not an everyday occurrence in the world," Owmby said. "This is the most horrendous thing that I have ever seen."

Around the time a case is taken to a grand jury, prosecutors typically report to Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal with a recommendation on whether to seek the death penalty. Rosenthal will make a decision at that time whether to pursue the death penalty.

Parnham, a University of Texas School of Law graduate who has practiced in state and federal courts, would not say whether he would seek an insanity plea as part of Yates' defense.

Parnham, no stranger to high-profile cases, has defended many public officials who landed in trouble. Among his previous clients included ousted state District Judge Jim Barr, former state Sen. Don Henderson, who was involved in a drunken driving accident that injured three people, and ex-Texas A&M basketball coach Kermit Davis, who resigned after an investigation into alleged recruiting violations.

Chronicle reporters Ruth Rendon, Steve Brewer and Mike Glenn contributed to this story.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle