Houston Chronicle

July 14, 2001, 1:05PM

Brother: Yates thought drownings 'best thing'

He says sister felt she was a bad mom

Houston Chronicle

FRIENDSWOOD -- For months, Russell Yates saw his wife, Andrea, slipping into the throes of depression, and he did all he could to get her proper medical attention, a brother said Friday.

"He had been taking her to hospitals and stuff. I feel like he did his best. I know he did," Andrew Kennedy said of the brother-in-law known to family and friends as Rusty.

No one ever suspected the illness would lead to the the drowning of her five children -- ages 7 to six months -- at the family's Clear Lake area home on June 20.

Autopsy reports released Friday by the Harris County Medical Examiner's office confirmed that each child died "by asphyxia due to drowning" and the manner of their deaths is homicide.

The autopsies also showed that the children suffered injuries to their bodies.

A nagging question for Kennedy, a chemist, and his family involves the medications Andrea Yates was given to battle severe depression that hit hard following the November birth of her fifth child, Mary.

"He (Yates) trusted the doctors and he did everything they said to do," Kennedy said from his Friendswood home. "Rusty made sure she took her medication. Sometimes she tried to spit it out."

And Kennedy, 46, questions whether his sister received proper counseling after she was released from a League City hospital. Such counseling, he said, would have helped his sister "get over the thoughts she had that were illogical."

Defense attorneys for Andrea Yates have subpoenaed medical records from Dr. Mohammad Saaed of Dickinson as well as from Devereux Texas Treatment Network and Memorial Hermann Prevention & Recovery Center, formerly Spring Shadows Glen Hospital, a Houston psychiatric hospital.

Kennedy said his sister was like a "zombie."

"She had lost a bunch of weight. She wasn't eating there. She didn't take a shower. Mom would take her in the shower. To me it's ridiculous for a hospital to think a person is OK when they were like that," he said.

He said his mother, Jutta Karin Kennedy, went to dinner with the Yates family shortly before the children died and noticed that her daughter was feeding 6-month-old Mary nothing but breadcrumbs and mashed potatoes. "She (Andrea) knew better than that, but apparently in her mind she didn't even know what to do at that point. She was so dysfunctional," he said.

Two months earlier, Rusty Yates' mother, Dora Yates, had come from Hermitage, Tenn., to help with the children and Andrea Yates. Kennedy said on most mornings, Rusty Yates would leave for his NASA computer engineering job at nearby Johnson Space Center about 9 a.m. and Dora Yates would arrive about an hour later.

By the time Dora Yates arrived the morning of June 20, Andrea Yates had drowned her children. She told police she did it because they were not developing normally and because she was a bad mother. Kennedy said he does not know why his sister would think that.

"That's a mystery. That's probably part of her psychosis," he said. "Rusty never said anything like that. Nobody ever said anything bad about her."

Kennedy said his sister, who quit her nursing job at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center after the birth of her first child, had never showed any violent tendencies and had never harmed the children, not even to spank them.

"She was just a good person. She followed the Ten Commandments ... She loved them a lot," Kennedy said of his sister, who is in the Harris County Jail psychiatric unit under capital murder charges.

On two occasions, both at her mother's home, Andrea Yates, 37, tried to kill herself. Kennedy said the most recent attempt was about three months ago when she hid a knife in a towel and then tried to cut her throat while in a bathroom. Rusty Yates managed to take the knife away, Kennedy said. She also attempted suicide in June 1999 -- four months after her fourth child was born -- by taking her late father's Alzheimer medication.

His sister's depression got progressively worse after their father died in March, he said.

Kennedy said his sister's actions have really been difficult for their mother.

"She thinks Andrea was trying to do that (commit suicide) so that in case she died, my mom would take care of the kids or something like that," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said the family thought she was just doing too much. "She only had like three to four hours in the whole week when she had time to herself and even then she had to take Mary with her," he said.

But Andrea Yates never complained and never asked for help, he said.

Kennedy said his family visits her at the jail every day they are permitted.

"She is slowly getting better," he said. "I know the prosecution is trying to medicate her and trying to get her as normal as they can. It's not working. It took a long, long time for her to get this way. It's going to take a combination of medication and talking to psychiatrists (for her to get better)."

Kennedy is hopeful she cannot stand trial by reason of insanity. "She made only one big mistake. It's a big one, but I don't think she could help it."

Friday's release of the autopsies were without comment. Harris County Medical Examiner Dr. Joye Carter and her staff are under a gag order issued by state District Judge Belinda Hill.

Roberto Bayardo, Travis County's chief medical examiner, reviewed the autopsy reports for the Associated Press. He said bruises on the bodies of the four boys indicate they struggled while being drowned, most likely hitting the sides and bottom of the bathtub.

Noah Yates, 7, also had injuries to his head, arms and back, Dr. Harminder S. Narula, an assistant Harris County medical examiner, stated in his report. Paul, 3, had a cut to his lower lip. Nothing unusual was noted about Luke, 2, and John, 5.

The autopsy report on Mary by Dr. Patricia J. Moore, an assistant medical examiner, noted six small lesions on her right foot. The report said they were "most likely related to insect bites, probably ants. Two ants are noted on the body upon examination."

"What stands out to me is the struggle," Bayardo said. "They were banging against the bathtub, I suppose."

Rusty Yates, meanwhile, continues to cope, Kennedy said.

"He seems to be doing OK. A lot of people think that he's not a very emotional person. He hides it. When you don't see him, he's crying. He lost his whole family in one fell swoop," he said.

Rusty Yates, who is scheduled to return to work soon, continues to live in the house where his children died, but will eventually sell it, Kennedy said.

"I can't imagine staying there with all the memories," he said.

Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle