By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Andrea's mother, Karin Kennedy, declined an interview when contacted by the Dallas Observer.
Still, he says, the feelings directed toward him remain polarized. "One of the things that now seems to most bother people is my continued support of Andrea," he says. "They somehow equate it with my not caring about what happened to my children." He notes that an estimated 20 percent of those who send e-mails to the children's Web site continue to blame him for a laundry list of parental shortcomings. "I've reached a point where I pay less attention to what I call the 'go grab a rope' crowd and focus on those who are more inclined to take a constructive approach."
Not long ago he made a weekend drive to Austin to join a couple of hundred others in a public demonstration for a moratorium on the death penalty, which he adamantly opposed even before threats that his wife might face it. While visiting family in Tennessee during the Christmas holidays, he received a late-night call alerting him that a Dallas family he'd met was having difficulties coping with a loss. Yates left immediately, driving straight through from Nashville to lend whatever moral support he could.
In addition to the acquaintances he's made during his visits to the support group, there are a few friends he occasionally meets for lunch, and a buddy he plays a round of golf with now and then.
"It's unfortunate that so many people have formed their opinion of Rusty without ever knowing him," says Carolyn Barker, whose granddaughter, Amy Robinson, was abducted and murdered in 1998. She recalls the day when the five wooden crosses, memorializing the slain Yates children, were erected in the Garden of Angels. "I've been out there hundreds of times," Barker says, "but that was the first time I ever cried. I watched as he sat by each of those crosses, and saw a gentle man who dearly loved his children."
The Rusty Yates she's come to know, she says, is far different from what she expected. And, despite a lengthy list of philosophical differences ("I'm for the death penalty, and he's against it," Barker says), a mutual respect has developed. Outspoken, she continues to believe Yates is in denial. "I keep telling him he's not going to be able to really move ahead with his life until he accepts some responsibility for what happened to his family," she explains. "But we don't really argue; we debate."
Rusty grins when asked about his relationship with the 60-year-old grandmother. "There's not much we agree on," he acknowledges, "but she's been a great friend." So, he adds, have many in the support group. It was among them, miles removed from Houston, that he first encountered the genuine kindness of strangers.
Today, he says, when he makes his monthly visit to the Garden it is rare not to find flowers and toys left by people he's never met at the base of his children's crosses.
Still, when all the talk and debate are over, the somber visits done, there remains that inevitable return home, first to the house where insanity and death forever changed his life, now to the apartment just a mile and a half away. "I stayed in the house for a year," he explains, "to better come to grips with the loss of my family." Methodically, he went through the children's possession--toys, clothing, drawings--sorting those he wished to keep and those he would eventually donate anonymously to charitable organizations. During long, solitary hours of poring over photographs, home videos and notes scrawled in childlike penmanship, he also set aside those things that he believes Andrea might one day want.
Now, with the cleaning-out process almost completed, he plans to soon place the house on the market. That even that decision made the local news causes him to shake his head. "First, I was the bad guy for staying in the house where my children died," he says. "Then there were those who questioned how I could move out and into this 'high-dollar' apartment." He shrugs. "Either way, I lose."
He knows it's unlikely he'll be seen any other way. "I guess," he says, "that I'd like for the view of others to be the same perception I have of myself. I was a really good father to my kids. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. And I was a very good husband."
He knows, however, that even if his critics grant him amnesty for his past behavior, they are baffled by his continued support of the woman who murdered his children.
That, he says, is the primary purpose of the new Web site he spends much of his time working on. "What I hope to accomplish with it is to help people come to some understanding of her illness. First, I want to help others to detect the warning signs and seek proper treatment; second, I want to try and set the record about our life straight." It will, he says, also afford him an opportunity to speak out against a judicial system that, he believes, chose to try his wife to appease a "lynch mob-minded constituency" rather than acknowledge the mental condition that led to her horrendous act.