Leatrice Brewer nodded almost imperceptibly when the judge asked her whether she killed her 18-month-old son.
"Yes," she whispered.
"Take a deep breath and keep going," Nassau County Judge Meryl Berkowitz said, before asking Brewer about the other two children she drowned last February in her bathtub: her daughter, 6, and son, 5. She answered "yes" to questions about them, too.
Brewer Monday pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect, and will now be sent to a secure upstate psychiatric facility indefinitely, prosecutors said. Brewer, prosecutors and Berkowitz all agreed to the plea after two independent psychiatric evaluations showed that at the time she killed the three children, she didn't know that what she was doing was wrong.
"My granddaughter loved her children," said Brewer's grandmother Maebell Mickens outside the Mineola courtroom. "I feel she's getting ready to get the help she needs."
The deaths of Jewell Ward, 6, Michael Demesyeux, 5, and Innocent Demesyeux, 18 months, drew attention to Nassau's social services agency after investigators learned that caseworkers had gone to Brewer's apartment two days earlier but left when no one was home. They did not schedule a follow-up visit until after the children were dead.
Innocent Demesyeux, the father of the two youngest children, said before the court proceeding that he was disappointed that prosecutors accepted Brewer's insanity plea.
"If there's no trial, I will never know what happened to my children," Demesyeux said. Demesyeux's lawyer, Sanford Pirotin of Westbury, said Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice may have avoided a trial so that any errors made by the county would not be aired in court, a charge Rice's office vigorously denied.
Outside court, Mitch Benson, head of Rice's major offense bureau, said the only reason for the plea was that "she didn't appreciate the wrongfulness of her conduct."
In court, prosecutor Michael Canty said when police arrived at Brewer's home Feb. 24, she told officers, "I jumped out the window and I killed my kids."
Later, Brewer told detectives that around 4 a.m. she woke up her daughter Jewell, and told her it was "time to go," Canty said. She then got a knife, slit her daughter's throat and put her back in bed. She next drowned her infant, Innocent, in the bathroom tub and put him in the bed beside Jewell.
She then noticed that Jewell was still alive, and drowned her in the tub, Canty said.
Finally she took her middle child, Michael, to the bathroom and drowned him, Canty said.
Brewer said she then swallowed a combination of bleach, Windex, OxiClean and a bottle of aspirin and lay down in bed with her children, hoping she would die, Canty 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, Canty 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 that Brewer understood that she was killing her children, but believed at the time that she was saving them and herself from the effects of voodoo.