MINEOLA, N.Y. – A woman who drowned her three young children in a bathtub, and tried twice to commit suicide, entered a plea Monday that will send her to a psychiatric facility rather than prison, possibly for the rest of her life.
Leatrice Brewer, 28, pleaded "not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect" after psychiatrists determined she suffered a "major depressive disorder" and believed she killed the children to save them from the potentially fatal effects of voodoo.
The case drew attention to Nassau County's social services agency, whose caseworkers visited Brewer's apartment two days before the killings and found no one home, but neglected to schedule an immediate follow-up visit. Two social workers were later suspended.
Brewer faced three murder counts in the Feb. 24, 2008, deaths. She had told authorities she slashed 6-year-old daughter Jewell in the throat before drowning her, and then drowned the little girl's half-brothers: 5-year-old Michael Demesyeux and 18-month-old Innocent Demesyeux.
The plea did not sit well with the father of the two young boys, who is suing county officials over the deaths. Innocent Demesyeux said in a statement that Brewer's guilt or innocence "should be decided by regular people on a jury and not by lawyers and politicians."
But other relatives agreed that a mental hospital was the appropriate destination for the troubled woman.
"She loved her kids but she struggled with them," said Maebell Mickens, the woman's grandmother who attended the court hearing with other relatives.
Brewer had said that after she placed the dead children on a bed, she drank a concoction of bleach, cleaning chemicals and aspirin. She awoke about four hours later, and realizing she was still alive, called 911 before jumping out a second-story window in a second suicide attempt.
When police arrived, they found Brewer suffering from back injuries. "I jumped out the window and I killed my kids," she told the officers.
Brewer is expected to be sent to the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center, where she will be held until psychiatrists determine she is no longer mentally ill, authorities said.
The county Child Protective Services agency said it investigated 10 cases involving Brewer in the preceding five years. She was arrested for various offenses seven times since 2000, officials said.