Leatrice Brewer seeks money from estates of kids she killed

Leatrice Brewer, who admitted to drowning her children

Leatrice Brewer, who admitted to drowning her children but pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect in February 2009, is seeking a portion of the wrongful death settlements awarded to the children's estates. (Credit: Howard Schnapp, 2008)

A woman who admitted to drowning her three young children in her New Cassel bathtub may be entitled to a portion of the money in their estate, her lawyer said Friday.

"Until Leatrice Brewer is disqualified, she is entitled to a share" of the $350,000 in estate money, said attorney Peter Kelly of Uniondale, who has been appointed to represent her in the case.

Brewer, 33, who admitted to the drownings but pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect in February 2009, is seeking a portion of the wrongful-death legal settlements paid by Nassau County to the children's estates. Her lawyer said that because she pleaded not guilty even as she admitted to killing the children, she may be entitled to a share of the money.

However, even if Brewer collects, she cannot keep the money because the state holds a $1.2-million lien on her assets to cover the cost of her treatment and board at a secure psychiatric facility upstate. She has been held there since the case ended in 2009.

Surrogate's Court Judge Edward McCarty in Mineola Friday set a hearing date on the matter for Aug. 15. He asked the lawyers for the children's two fathers to call witnesses who can help determine whether Brewer acted voluntarily and with intent at the time of the killings. Those witnesses include the 911 operator Brewer called to report that she had killed her children; the police officer who first responded to the home; the detectives who took her statement; and various mental health experts.

Thomas Foley, a Garden City lawyer for Innocent Demesyeux, the father of Brewer's two youngest children, Michael, who was 5, and Innocent Jr., who was 18 months, said in court that a hearing is unnecessary since no one is disputing that Brewer killed her children. Demesyeux settled a lawsuit against the county last year for $250,000, claiming that social services caseworkers could have done more to save his children.

"The only reason that there is any money is because of her actions," Foley said outside the Mineola courtroom. "She killed those kids."

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the estate of the third child, Jewell Ward, 6, recently settled for $100,000.

Caseworkers had gone to Brewer's apartment two days earlier but left when no one was home. A follow-up visit was scheduled too late to save the children.

Police said Brewer drowned her children one by one, then laid them in a row on her bed in their pajamas. Brewer then swallowed a combination of bleach, Windex, OxiClean and a bottle of aspirin and lay down in the bed, hoping she would die, prosecutors said.

When she woke up the next morning, she tried again to kill herself, this time by jumping out the second-story window of her apartment. When she survived, prosecutors said, she went back upstairs to her neighbor's apartment, called 911 and confessed to killing her children.

According to the psychiatric evaluations, Brewer suffered from "major depressive disorder," including hallucinations and paranoia. The reports say she understood she was killing her children, but believed she was saving them and herself from voodoo.

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