A mom found to be insane when she drowned her three young children can't get money from the wrongful death settlements that followed their killings, a Nassau judge ruled Wednesday.
Letting Leatrice Brewer collect from $350,000 in settlements to her children's estates to finance her rehabilitation would be "repugnant to decency," said Surrogate Judge Edward McCarty III in what he called a precedent-setting decision.
In 2009, Brewer pleaded not responsible by reason of mental defect or disease in connection with the 2008 deaths of her 6-year-old daughter Jewell Ward, 5-year-old son Michael Demesyeux and 1-year-old son Innocent Demesyeux Jr.
She drowned them in her bathtub, believing she was saving them from a voodoo curse that only death could break, prosecutors said. She later tried to kill herself by swallowing household cleaners and aspirin, then calling 911 and jumping out the window of her second-story apartment.
Brewer has been confined to an upstate psychiatric facility, but was in court for yesterday's proceeding.
Nassau County settled with the children's estates after claims that social services caseworkers could have done more to save the children in the former New Cassel woman's troubled household.
New York State law says convicted criminals can't profit from their wrongdoing. But while Brewer admitted to killing her children, she wasn't convicted of the crimes.
McCarty dubbed his decision the "Brewer Rule," and said that while the 33-year-old mother wasn't criminally responsible for her children's deaths, she still was morally responsible.
The new rule says a person found not responsible for a crime because of mental disease or defect, who has the ability to recognize his or her conduct was morally wrong, can't financially benefit from that action, according to McCarty.
"But for her killing of Jewel, Innocent and Michael, there would be no fund to allocate," McCarty said in his ruling.
Peter Kelly, a lawyer for Brewer, had said in court that the mother was seeking the estate money to block Innocent Demesyeux, the father of her two late sons, from getting any funds because he had abandoned Brewer and their boys.
Demesyeux won a $250,000 wrongful death settlement against Nassau County. A separate wrongful death lawsuit against Nassau connected to the death of Brewer's daughter was settled for $100,000.
Brewer's legal advocates said she knew that, even if she had won some of the $350,000, it would have gone to the state to help defray the more than $1 million in costs for her treatment and confinement.
Thomas Foley, a lawyer for Innocent Demesyeux, called the judge's decision "an extension of common sense." In court he argued: "There can't be any circumstances where we allow her to profit from what she did."
Foley said Demesyeux never abandoned his sons and Brewer's motivation for contesting the payment sounded like "the thinking of an insane person."
Court officials gave Brewer a moment to kiss her grandmother, Maebell Mickens, before leading her away after the judge's ruling. Mickens reacted to the decision only by saying her granddaughter "didn't want the money" anyway.
The judge must decide if the fathers of the victims qualify for the estate money. They won't have a right to it if McCarty finds they abandoned the children to Brewer's care, McCarty said.