Leatrice Brewer on her slain kids: 'I was sick at the time'
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Leatrice Brewer knows she'll never escape the memory of killing her three children -- the horror that landed her in a maximum-security psychiatric ward in upstate New York.
On Feb. 24, 2008, Brewer stabbed her 6-year-old daughter, Jewell Ward, as the girl tried to fight back. She then drowned her daughter and sons -- 5-year-old Michael Demesyeux and 18-month-old Innocent Demesyeux Jr. -- in the bathtub of their New Cassel apartment.
Next, Brewer attempted suicide by swallowing aspirin and household cleaners. When she awoke, she tried again, jumping out a second-story window.
More than five years later, the fight over the victims' estates still is in court. Last month, a judge ruled that Brewer couldn't collect from $350,000 in wrongful-death settlements.
Brewer was committed to Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in 2009, after a judge accepted her plea that she was insane during the killings. Brewer told psychiatrists she did it to try to break a voodoo curse.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about holding them in my arms and loving them," Brewer, 33, said of her children in a recent exclusive interview. "I wish that I could take it back, but they will always be in my heart."
But Innocent Demesyeux, 34, the father of Brewer's two sons and a party in a current civil case on the victims' estates, doesn't believe her.
"I don't think that she's sorry for killing the kids," the Queens ambulette driver said.
After years of therapy, Brewer explained her actions like this: "I was sick at the time. . . . I cope with it by praying and talking to God and asking him for forgiveness."
Demesyeux and Jewell's father are trying to collect the settlements that Nassau County made after wrongful-death lawsuits involving Jewell, Michael and Innocent Jr.
In November, Surrogate's Court Judge Edward McCarty III ruled it would be "repugnant to decency" for Brewer to collect any of the money.
The settlements followed separate claims by Demesyeux and Jewell's father that social service caseworkers could have done more to save Brewer's kids in what had been a troubled household.
A state probe found county child protection workers did incomplete investigations and missed signs of abuse. They visited the apartment two days before Brewer killed her children and after a complaint that she'd threatened to harm them.
But they left believing no one was home. Brewer said in the interview that she and the children were there, but she was hiding.
"I was home, but I was scared," she said.
McCarty still must decide if the fathers qualify for the estate money. They won't if an investigation finds they abandoned the children to Brewer's care.
Peter Kelly, an attorney for Brewer, said in court that Brewer sought estate money only to block Demesyeux from collecting because she believed he had abandoned them.
Brewer said she also blames Demesyeux for playing a role in what led her to kill the children, saying she "assumed he put voodoo on me."
Demesyeux's attorney, Thomas Foley, said Brewer's claim his client played any role in the children's deaths shows she is "a very sick person."
Brewer said that while in state custody she got pregnant and gave birth four years ago to a baby boy who is now in foster care. The boy's father is another patient, she said.
A state Office of Mental Health spokesman said he was not permitted to answer questions concerning specific patients, but a department policy discourages sexual activity among patients.
Any decision on whether Brewer would be freed, authorities said, would fall to doctors and the court to determine as she undergoes evaluations every two years. "I just want to get out of the hospital and live a good life," she said.
In the meantime, Brewer said she looks at a photo of Jewell, Michael and Innocent Jr. every night before she sleeps.
Their images are from a news story about their deaths -- the most recent pictures she has of them.