Minneapolis An Ottawa County man testified Thursday that he put antifreeze in his young daughters' orange juice last year in the hope of creating an incident that would keep his crumbling family together.
Instead, the girls are now in foster care and the father, Donald Paul Ayres, is on trial for attempted first-degree murder.
Ayres, 31, of Culver, is also accused of felony child abuse and child endangerment. The daughters, now ages 9 and 10, both became gravely ill after drinking the tainted juice in February and March of last year. They have recovered fully.
Just weeks before the poisonings, Ayres' second wife, Angie -- who is not the girls' biological mother -- had filed for divorce after less than two months of marriage. She had moved out of the home after Ayres pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery against her.
On the witness stand Thursday, Ayres described his actions in February 1999.
"I got some antifreeze and poured it in the orange juice in the fridge," he said. "I knew that sooner or later they'd go in there and help themselves."
When asked whether he purposely put the antifreeze into the juice, Ayres replied simply, "Yes."
"I wasn't thinking straight," he said. "I thought it was the only way I could talk to Angie and keep the family together."
Ashley Ayres, then 9, became ill Feb. 23, 1999, and went into a coma. Chelsie, then 8, became critically ill with almost the same symptoms a little more than a week later.
Doctors initially suspected viral encephalitis, but tests at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita later showed both girls had ethylene glycol -- commonly found in automobile antifreeze -- in their bloodstreams.
The doctors testified this week that both girls had ingested about an ounce of the chemical and probably would have died without treatment.
Earlier Thursday, Sheriff Kenneth B. White related to jurors a short conversation White had with Ayres on the afternoon following his arrest.
"I made the comment to him, 'It's a bad deal, a bad thing.' At that he started crying and he said yes it is," White testified. "I sat there a minute and I made the comment I didn't think he had intended to murder his children. He said it wasn't murder.
"He said, 'I didn't mean to hurt them. All I wanted to do was get my family back.'"
The sheriff talked with Ayres briefly following a three-hour interview between Ayres and a Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent. Before that interview began, Ayres told White that he wanted to explain some theories about who might have poisoned his daughters. He was upbeat at the time.
But three hours later, after the interview with the KBI agent had ended, Ayres' demeanor had shifted, White told jurors. Ayres was hunched over in his chair and holding his head in his hands.
"He was obviously upset, scared maybe," White testified. "He wasn't upbeat like he had been."
Before their short conversation ended, White said, Ayres asked him how much time he thought Ayres would have to serve and "he wondered if his children would hate him."