Woman 'not responsible' for kids' murders

November 22, 2010 9:29:01 AM PST
Two independent psychiatrists have found Leatrice Brewer 'not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect' for the killing of her three children in February of last year. The deaths put a spotlight on the county's social services agency after it was learned that caseworkers had been dispatched to the victims' apartment two days earlier but, because no one was home, failed to schedule a follow-up visit until after the children were dead.

"I don't think we'll ever know whether or not we could have prevented this from happening," Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi said at the time. Two workers were later suspended.

Leatrice Brewer, 28, pleaded "not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect" after separate defense and prosecution psychiatrists determined she suffered a "major depressive disorder" with "psychotic features, hallucinations and paranoia."

On February 24, 2008, a Nassau County police officer responding to a 911 call traveled to 891 Prospect Avenue in Westbury for an unknown problem. Upon arriving, the officer observed the then-27-year-old defendant, Leatrice Brewer, on the phone with a 911 operator. The officer asked her what the problem was and why she was locked out of her apartment, to which she responded, "I jumped out the window and I killed my kids." The officer then forced entry into the apartment, where he found two small children and an infant dead in the bedroom. Brewer was placed under arrest in the hallway of the apartment complex.

Brewer told detectives that around 4 a.m., she woke up her daughter Jewel, the oldest child, and told her it was time to go. She stated that she got a knife and slit her daughter's throat before placing her back in bed. She then took her infant, Innocent, to the bathroom, where she drew a bath and drowned him.

She then carried Innocent back to the same bed where she had placed Jewel and noticed that Jewel was still alive. The defendant then took Jewel to the bathroom and drowned her in the tub. After returning Jewel to the bed, she took her middle child, Michael, to the bathroom and drowned him in the tub.

After killing all three children, she stated she attempted to call 911, but hung up the phone. She then stated she ingested a combination of bleach, Windex, OxiClean and a bottle of aspirin and laid down in bed with her children hoping she would die. She apparently awoke early the next morning and realized her suicide was unsuccessful.

She stated at some point during the night she vomited up the material she ingested. (Police observed the area in the apartment where the defendant had apparently vomited). At approximately 8:30 a.m. the defendant made a second attempt at killing herself. She said she called 911 for them to respond and then she jumped out of the second story window of her apartment. Once again, she was unsuccessful at committing suicide.

As a result of jumping out the second story window, she suffered multiple back injuries. After surviving the fall, she walked back upstairs to her neighbor's apartment and borrowed a telephone to call 911. During this 911 call, she reportedly confessed to killing her three children.

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 through his attorney that Brewer's guilt or innoncence "should be decided by regular people on a jury and not by lawyers and politicians."

According to the psychiatric evaluations performed by board certified psychiatrists hired by both the defendant and the People, at the time of the killings, Brewer suffered from "major depressive disorder," with "psychotic features," "hallucinations," and "paranoia." The reports go on to say that Brewer understood that she was killing her children, but believed at the time that she was doing so to save them and herself from what she believed were the continuing and potentially mortal effects of Voodoo.

Brewer is expected to be sent to the Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center, where she will be evaluated at least three times in her first 13 months there. Subsequent evaluations will occur every two years. The evaluations will determine whether Brewer is mentally ill and dangerous, mentally ill and of no danger to herself or others, or no longer mentally ill.

She will be held unless authorities ever determine she is no longer mentally ill, authorities said.

A county review after the deaths determined there was little evidence before the killings that the children were being mistreated, despite Brewer's well-documented involvement with the system.

The county Child Protective Services agency said it investigated 10 cases involving Brewer in the preceding five years, three of which required follow-up. She was arrested for various offenses seven times since 2000 and had been referred to substance-abuse classes, parenting classes and other non-profit agencies, officials said.

That said, "the children seemed well cared for," said Mary Curtis, a deputy county executive for health and human services, after the deaths. She noted prior visits by authorities to the home found the children were clothed and fed, were going to school, and "the apartment was well taken care of."

Nearly 1,500 children died from abuse or neglect in 2005 - more than a fourth of those at the hands of their mothers, according to a study by the U.S. government.

Some information from The Associated Press.