SAN FRANCISCO – The woman seen dropping her young sons into San Francisco Bay pleaded innocent Friday to three counts of murder.
Lashuan Harris (search), described as mentally ill by family members, kept her head down and held her public defender's hand through most of the brief court hearing. She quietly answered "yes" when the San Francisco Superior Court judge asked if she was willing to waive her right to a speedy preliminary hearing.
Harris, 23, faces three counts of murder with the "special circumstance" of multiple murder. A claim of special circumstances means a murder defendant could be eligible for the death penalty, but San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris said she hasn't yet decided on whether to actually seek such a sentence.
"I've also said I'll always review the facts and compare them to the law before I announce my decision," she said outside court Friday.
Her lawyer, Teresa Caffese, refused to address questions about Harris' mental state, saying only her client was under suicide watch. She's being held without bail.
"It's very, very difficult," Caffese said. "This can't be captured in words right now."
Authorities said Harris, a former nurse's assistant who was living in a homeless shelter, was seen putting her three boys in the bay Wednesday.
The body of Harris' middle son, Taronta Greeley, 2, was recovered late Wednesday about two miles from Pier 7. The other two — Treyshun Harris, 6 and Joshoa Greeley, 16 months — remained missing, but were presumed dead after so many hours in the water.
The U.S. Coast Guard (search) called off its search Thursday afternoon, but the San Francisco police and fire departments continue to scour the bay for the two bodies.
Harris' next court hearing was scheduled Oct. 28.
Harris told investigators she had taken the anti-psychotic drug Haldol (search) to control schizophrenia but stopped when she got her symptoms under control over the summer, according to a police report. But she said the voices returned Tuesday night and were still with her when she put her children into the water, according to the report.
Family member said Harris had made threats before. An aunt told the San Francisco Chronicle the threats had prompted the woman's mother to contact authorities, but others said they didn't think Harris would actually kill her children.
"She told my mama she was going to feed them to the sharks," said Britney Fitzpatrick, Harris' 16-year-old half sister. "No one thought it was that serious."
Demarcus Harris, Lashuan Harris' cousin, said the last time he saw her was Tuesday at his sister's house in Oakland (search) and the boys were with her.
When his cousin left, she said goodbye and "I'm going to miss y'all." He said neither he nor his sister suspected what she would do the next day. "We all thought she was just going home," he said.
Harris was hospitalized in January at the John George Psychiatric Pavilion in San Leandro and her mother was briefly granted custody of the boys, according to her older sister, Telicia Harris, 26.
Alameda County social service workers concluded after the first hospital stay that Lashuan was fit to care for her sons, Telicia Harris said.
Lashuan Harris' aunt, Joyce Harris, told the Chronicle for Friday's editions that Lashuan's mother had contacted social services officials about three months ago to seek partial custody of the children. She made the request because Harris had stopped taking medication and had made threats regarding the boys, the paper reported.
"They said she was sane, that they couldn't do anything," Joyce Harris told the newspaper.
Sylvia Soublet, a spokeswoman for the Alameda County Social Services Agency, told the Chronicle she could not discuss whether the family had contacted her agency about gaining custody.
"Lashuan is very protective of the children and I think one of the reasons Lashuan stopped taking her medication was for fear of losing her three children," an uncle, Avery Garrett, told NBC's "Today" show Friday.