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Leatrice BREWER





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Parricide - Drowned her three children believing that she was saving them from voodoo
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: February 24, 2008
Date of arrest: Same day (suicide attempt)
Date of birth: 1980
Victims profile: Her three children, Jewell Ward, 6; Michael Demesyeux, 5; and Innocent Demesyeux, 18 months old.
Method of murder: Drowning
Location: New Cassel, Nassau County, New York, USA
Status: Pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect on February 9, 2009. Incarcerated indefinitely at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center

photo gallery


Leatrice Brewer on her slain kids: 'I was sick at the time'

By Bridget Murphy -

December 15, 2013

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.


Long Island Mother Who Drowned 3 Children in Bathtub Gives Birth to 4th Child While Incarcerated

Leatrice Brewer drowned her three children in a Long Island bathtub in 2008

By Ann Givens and Pei-Sze Cheng -

Friday, Oct 11, 2013

A woman who admitted to drowning her three young children in her Long Island bathtub five years ago has given birth to a fourth child while incarcerated at what is supposed to be a secure upstate psychiatric hospital, the I-Team has learned.

Leatrice Brewer, 33, was found not guilty because of mental disease or defect in the 2008 deaths of her children, and has been held ever since at the secure Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton. Her case has received renewed attention in recent weeks because she is trying to collect $350,000 from a settlement that the childrens’ fathers won from Nassau County in wrongful death lawsuits.

But now the father of two of the three children Brewer killed says he has been contacted by a lawyer trying to find an appropriate placement for the newborn Brewer had while in custody.

“She told me Leatrice had a baby while she was in that facility,” Innocent Demesyeux said in an interview with the I-Team.

It is unclear who that baby’s father is, or under what circumstances Brewer became pregnant. The state Office of Mental Health, which oversees Mid-Hudson, declined to comment, citing privacy laws.

Attorney Tom Foley, who represents Demesyeux, said "it's outrageous" that Brewer was able to conceive a child while incarcerated.

"This person's supposedly in a secure facility and she gets pregnant. This is the woman who had no idea what she was doing when she murdered her children."

Because she was technically found not responsible for the children's deaths, lawyers say she may be able to claim some or all of the $350,000 estate their fathers won.

However, even if the judge rules she can collect, Brewer is not expected to see any of the money -- there is a $1.2 million lien against her for psychiatric counseling and other services she has received since her arrest, lawyers have said.

Another option the court could consider is to award some or all of the money to Brewer baby, as her heir.

It is unclear who now has custody of the baby.

After Nassau Surrogates Court Judge Edward McCarty decides whether Brewer is entitled to collect, he must make a similar ruling about the children's two fathers. If he finds that the men effectively abandoned their children, they may not be entitled, lawyers say.


She Did the Crime, But Won't Do the Time

Leatrice Brewer Cops Insanity Plea, County's Actions Questioned

By Victoria Caruso-Davis -

February 20, 2009

Leatrice Brewer stood before a Nassau County judge Feb. 9 and, when asked, admitted to killing her three children. At this time, Brewer pleaded not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect and, as a result, will not be subject to a trial or jail time. Instead, Brewer will be sent to a maximum security psychiatric center.

The plea, which was agreed upon early last week by Brewer, the Nassau County District Attorney and Nassau County Judge Meryl Berkowitz, was the result of two independent psychiatric evaluations that showed, at the time Brewer killed her three children, she did not know what she was doing was wrong.

When police arrived at Brewer's home on Feb. 24, 2008, she told officers that, at around 4 a.m. that morning, she woke up her 6-year-old daughter Jewell Ward, telling her it was "time to go" before getting a knife and slitting her throat. She then placed the girl back on the bed and drew a bath. She then drowned 18-month-old son Innocent Demesyeux, Jr. in the bathtub and put him back in bed beside Jewell. When she noticed her daughter was still alive, she drowned her in the tub. She then took her middle child, 5-year-old Michael Innocent Demesyeux, and drowned him as well.

Brewer told police she then ingested a combination of bleach, Windex, OxiClean along with a bottle of aspirin and climbed into bed with her children, hoping she would die as well. When she woke the next morning and realized her suicide was unsuccessful, Brewer tried again to kill herself, this time by jumping out her second-story apartment window. Only when this second attempt was unsuccessful did Brewer call 911 and confess to the killings.

According to the psychiatric evaluations performed by board certified psychiatrists hired by both the defendant and the prosecution, Brewer, at the time of the murders, 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, having stated to police that she killed the children to "protect them from evil spirits."

In consenting to the plea, Assistant District Attorney Michael Canty submitted to the court a detailed statement saying that, based on two independent psychiatric evaluations performed on Brewer, the DA's office believes the defense would prevail at trial using the "not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect" defense. Under Penal Law §40.10, such a defense only requires that the defendant be able to prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" that, at the time of the murders, Brewer "lacked substantial capacity to know or appreciate either the nature and consequences of such conduct or that such conduct was wrong."

By entering a "not responsible" plea, Brewer has waived her right to a criminal trial and accepted the allegations that she committed each element outlined in the murder indictment lodged against her. As a result, Brewer will be incarcerated indefinitely at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center, where she will receive treatment and periodic evaluation.

According to the DA's office, there is neither a mandatory minimum nor mandatory maximum in regard to how long Brewer will remain incarcerated but spokesperson Eric Phillips said she will be evaluated first after six months, then a year later, then every two years after that. "In each evaluation, she is deemed one of three things: mentally ill and dangerous, mentally ill and not dangerous, or no longer mentally ill. Only if the determination falls under that last category, would the mental health officials for the state consider her release," said Phillips. "Given the nature of her crimes and the scope of her psychiatric diagnosis, it's not realistic to think she will be released anytime in the near future. It is more realistic to estimate that she will spend a long, long time, perhaps even the remainder of her life, in a secure psychiatric facility."

Phillips added that the "overall length of incarceration will depend entirely on her mental health progress and the doctors' determinations following each two-year evaluation."

Additionally, as a result of the plea, Brewer will never serve a day in prison. "Based on our investigation and the independent psychiatric evaluations, the judge found her 'not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect' at the time of the killings. Her criminal culpability pertains solely to the time frame of the killings, so even if somebody down the road deems her no longer mentally ill, at the time of the killings she was mentally ill and therefore she cannot be the subject of a traditional criminal prosecution," said Phillips.

"I am shocked that the district attorney would allow Brewer to plead insanity and be found not guilty without a trial. The question of whether she is guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity should be decided by regular people on a jury and not by lawyers and politicians," said Innocent Demesyeux, the father of the two slain boys, in a statement through his attorney. "[Without a] trial, people will never know what really happened to my children and how the county government failed them. My children deserve their day in court."

Of the plea deal, Demesyeux' attorney Sanford Pirotin said it is a "tremendous disappointment not only to the father but to every person who lives in this county." Pirotin said. "Never has a triple killer - in this county, state or country - been allowed to plead not guilty. In any other case, the DA would have wanted this to go to trial and would have prosecuted, which is her job. DA Rice refused to do that. Why?"

The attorney said neither he nor his client was ever contacted about the plea and that his attempts for an adjournment, along with a request for the DA to step aside and have New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo appoint a special prosecutor to handle this and related matters, fell on deaf ears.

Pirotin believes that the DA's decision to accept the plea was an eleventh hour attempt to avoid having the results from a New York State Office of Children and Family Services Child Fatality Report. The report was released Feb. 4 with the plea deal first presented Feb. 6 and finalized Feb. 9. "This deal was cut and finished in less then two business days," he said. "We believe that the DA refused to continue with the case and dropped the charges for the simple reason that [the county] wanted to cover up how they goofed up and did not want the information [contained in the report] brought up in trial."

In a prepared statement, Pirotin said, "In a situation where the county executive has already stated that the system failed these children, transparency on the county's part is key to avoid the appearance of impropriety."

Phillips, however, states the two have nothing to do with one another. "The report and Child Protection Services' history with this family have nothing to do with the criminal case against the defendant," he told The Westbury Times. "Our investigation and prosecution are focused solely on the defendant's actions and how those actions are addressed by state criminal and mental health law."

As it currently stands, Brewer will be sent to the mental facility in upstate New York. While there is nothing he can do to undo the plea, Pirotin is still working with his client in a civil suit, for an undisclosed amount, against Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi, Nassau County Commissioner of Social Services John E. Imhof, Ph.D., Nassau County Department of Child Protective Services (CPS) Director Maureen McLoughlin and Nassau County Police Commissioner Lawrence W. Mulvey as well as other departments and offices.

In his claim, Demesyeux alleges that the Nassau County agencies were "negligent, reckless and grossly negligent and in direct violation of their own internal procedures as well as federal, state and county rules, regulations and statutes in investigating child abuse and neglect allegations."

Additionally, Ricky Ward, the father of murdered 6-year-old Jewell, has a wrongful death suit against Nassau County, Child Protective Services and the Department of Social Services. Ward, who is being represented by the Long Island-based firm Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, charges that the county "negligently, carelessly and recklessly failed to protect Jewel Ward and are, therefore, responsible for the pain and suffering and wrongful death of his daughter." The lawsuit alleges that if the agencies followed policy, Jewell, Michael and Innocent would have been removed from Brewer's home, preventing their deaths.


Cries of Anguish Fill Church as 3 Slain Children Are Mourned Together

By Manny Fernandez and Angela Macropoulos - The New York Times

March 2, 2008

At a packed Baptist church on Long Island, three children lay in a single coffin of white, themselves dressed in white. The oldest child, age 6, had her arms wrapped around the two younger ones, and with them in the small gold-trimmed coffin, just above their heads, were two ceramic angel figurines.

Hundreds of people — relatives, neighbors, ministers, elected officials — filed past the open coffin on Saturday during a somber, anguished funeral for the children, a girl, a boy and a baby named Innocent.

The authorities have said that the children — Jewell Nicole Ward and her two half-brothers, Michael Demesyeux, 5, and Innocent Demesyeux, 18 months — were murdered by their mother, Leatrice Brewer, 27. The viewing and funeral at St. John’s Baptist Church in Westbury were less than a half-mile from where the children died last Sunday, in their mother’s apartment in the Nassau County hamlet of New Cassel.

Ushers passed out bottles of water, paper fans and tissue boxes. Before the coffin was closed, someone put a small stuffed animal at the children’s feet. People wailed openly, and at times Maebell Mickens, the grandmother of Ms. Brewer and the great-grandmother of the children, had to be held and consoled by relatives.

“To my angels, you are the most precious thing in my life,” Ms. Mickens said during the service. “Jewell, I would ask you about your mother and you would tell me what she did. And you know I would go after her. I tried to protect you all, even though you knew the thing wasn’t right.”

At 8:55 a.m. last Sunday, Ms. Brewer called 911 to say that she had killed her sons and daughter. She was calm, and even spelled her name for the operator, the authorities said. When the police arrived at her apartment on Prospect Avenue, she took them to the bedroom, where the children, all in pajamas, lay slain on a bed.

The children had been drowned in the bathtub, the police said; Jewell’s throat had been slashed, and there were signs of possible poisoning. At Ms. Brewer’s arraignment on murder charges on Tuesday, she pleaded not guilty.

The service stirred not only grief among the mourners, but a range of conflicting emotions. Some spoke indirectly of the responsibility they had all shared in looking out for the children, but no one spoke directly about the handling of the case by county agencies, some of which have been criticized for a series of missteps. Others made pleas for mercy for Ms. Brewer.

“There is a thin line between sanity and insanity, and I want the elected officials to think of that when judging my granddaughter,” said the Rev. Myrtle Smith, another of the children’s great-grandmothers. “When you judge, judge carefully.”

She added: “We can say she was doing drugs, but maybe she was medicating the pain.”

Innocent Demesyeux, the father of Ms. Brewer’s two sons, called a hot line the Friday before the killings and said he was concerned that she was going to harm the children. Child welfare officials sent caseworkers to the apartment twice that day, but there was no answer. County officials said a supervisor failed to send a caseworker to follow up on Saturday, and by Sunday morning, the children were dead.

On Tuesday, the Nassau County executive, Thomas R. Suozzi, announced that the supervisor had been suspended without pay. At the funeral, Mr. Suozzi quoted from the 1963 eulogy the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave for children killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. He also said he had ordered a full investigation.

“We need to know how, somehow, all of us failed to save these children,” he said. “People will be held accountable.”

Mr. Suozzi began his speech by saying, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.” Mr. Demesyeux’s lawyer, Sanford Pirotin, said later that he found the remark offensive. “It speaks for itself,” Mr. Pirotin said. “It was damage control.”

And there were the children. Jewell, who was born June 10, 2001, was dressed in a white silk dress with matching stockings and white ballet flats. She loved to model clothes and purses. Her first-grade teacher read remembrances written by her classmates. One wrote, “She was my best friend.” And another recalled, “She wrote me a picture.”

Michael, born Feb. 10, 2003, attended Dryden Street School in Westbury. For his birthday a few weeks ago, he had asked his father not only to get a gift for him, but also to get presents for his brother and sister, recalled Venus Hamilton, Mr. Demesyeux’s companion.

Innocent was born Aug. 26, 2006. He and his siblings were buried at Amityville Cemetery.


Disintegration of a Mother’s Life Was Long Hidden in Plain Sight

By Paul Vitello - The New York Times

March 2, 2008

NEW CASSEL, N.Y. — She was sometimes seen good-naturedly juggling her children while pushing a stroller laden with groceries. At other times she seemed lost in thought, pushing the same stroller, empty, through the streets while the children remained home alone.

Leatrice Brewer, 27, was a troubled woman known to her family and neighbors as an uneven mother whose manner with her children seemed to toggle between extreme possessiveness and blithe neglect.

Yet like many things hidden in plain sight, the disintegration of her life — and the drowning of her three children, who the police say died at Ms. Brewer’s hands — was an end that no one saw coming, and everyone saw coming.

Relatives and friends poring through the remembered details of Ms. Brewer’s life portrayed her as someone who had struggled with the painful legacy of abandonment in childhood by her mentally ill mother; who drove herself to live an independent life, frequently working two jobs; who could lavish love and attention on her children despite bouts of depression, drug dependence and mental illness of her own; and who seemed in the end to have abandoned her haunted sense of duty as a mother and transferred it in large measure to the shoulders of her precocious 6-year-old daughter.

Last Sunday, Ms. Brewer dialed 911 to report that she had drowned the children one by one in the bathtub in their small, neatly kept apartment here. Ms. Brewer said she first had subdued the oldest, 6-year-old Jewell Ward, by stabbing her repeatedly with a knife. Ms. Brewer then threw herself from the second-floor bedroom window.

On Tuesday, while handcuffed to her bed at Nassau University Medical Center, Ms. Brewer was arraigned on three counts of murder and pleaded not guilty. She was under treatment there for a back injury suffered in her fall, which the police said appeared to have been a suicide attempt.

A lawyer representing Ms. Brewer, Michelle Armstrong, said on Saturday that it had not been decided whether Ms. Brewer would undergo a psychiatric evaluation of her fitness to stand trial. “It’s not only a tragedy that it’s happened to these children,” Ms. Armstrong said, “but what happened to their mother as well.”

Last week, relatives blamed the Nassau County child welfare agency for the catastrophe, saying it should have intervened more aggressively. But family members and the authorities seemed to share a sense of disbelief at how familiar they had been with Ms. Brewer’s troubles, and yet how unimaginable the danger to her children was all along.

“Everybody knew she left the kids home sometimes,” said Anthony Brooks, a cousin of Jewell’s father, Ricky Ward. “But never would you think that something like this would happen.”

In retrospect, scenes both happy and troubling took on deeply darker shades of meaning:

The way Jewell was so adept at changing diapers and washing the baby bottles for her half-brother, 18-month-old Innocent Demesyeux, and was so proud when she was called her brothers’ “little mommy.”

The way the middle child, 5-year-old Michael Demesyeux, would cling to visitors and ask with a smile to be taken home by them.

The many times Ms. Brewer bought egg salad sandwiches at the nearby bodega for her children and a 40-ounce bottle of beer for herself, telling the owner she was in a hurry because the children were home unattended.

The many times the police were called to her apartment by the children’s fathers, who claimed she had exploded in anger and assaulted them when they tried to see their children.

In a tight-knit community where a dozen churches and scores of family members were within walking distance, where individual social workers and case workers were known on the street by sight, the social safety net in all its guises seemed to have been as much at a loss as Ms. Brewer herself was in those solitary walks with the empty stroller.

“People can snap,” said Satina Fenner, 26, who said she had known Ms. Brewer since grammar school in New Cassel. In some ways, critics said last week, the bonds between a community and one of its own can also snap.

Leatrice Brewer was the elder child of Pearly Mae Mickens, who was remembered in this working-class Long Island community of black and immigrant residents as struggling throughout her 46-year life with drug addiction and mental illness.

During one of their mother’s absences — relatives were unsure whether she was in jail or hospitalized — Leatrice and her brother, Robert, went to live with their grandmother Maebell Mickens. When their mother was released, she lived in their grandmother’s house off and on, but never again established a household with her children.

Daquann Redd, 20, a cousin of Leatrice and Robert, remembers Leatrice as a teenager, “determined to succeed at something,” and somewhat scarred by “how messed up her mom’s life was.”

For a couple of years, Leatrice was Daquann’s regular baby sitter, meeting him at the bus stop after school and looking after him until his mother, Sylvia Croker, Leatrice’s aunt, got home from work. She was a taskmaster, said Mr. Redd.

“She was like, ‘Don’t play so much basketball. Do your homework. Read books,’ ” he said. “She wanted to be a nurse. I looked up to her because she had goals.”

Ms. Brewer is pictured in the 1999 Westbury High School yearbook as a senior, smiling and wearing a festive formal dress. There are no extracurricular activities listed under her name, but relatives remember that for a couple of years she had an after-school job with the maintenance department at the high school.

She is absent from the 1996 and 1998 yearbooks, and she wears a scowl in 1997, the year police records show she was twice fined $150 for disorderly conduct.

Over the next few years she held several jobs, including work as a filing clerk for a Hicksville law firm and a sales assistant at a Kohl’s department store.

Sometimes she worked at fast-food restaurants to supplement her income, other times as a housekeeper. Often, said Teoni Maddox, a longtime friend, she held two jobs at once.

“Leatrice was moody, and she could be a little ‘off’ — one day friendly, the next day like she never knew you,” Ms. Maddox said. “But I always thought it was because she was always so busy.”

Then in 2002, Ms. Brewer met and had her first baby with Ricky Ward, a man who grew up in the neighborhood, not far from the white bungalow with a red roof where Ms. Brewer was raised by her grandmother.

Relatives said that their relationship did not last and that after giving birth to Jewell, Ms. Brewer suffered a period of depression.

“ ‘I don’t know what to do,’ ” her cousin, Mr. Redd, recalls her saying. “ ‘I wasn’t ready for this.’ ”

Police records confirm that it was a tough year. Though details about the cases were unavailable, she was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree criminal contempt, and sentenced to three years’ probation.

In 2003, Ms. Brewer’s mother, with whom she had remained close despite their many separations, died of cancer.

In her final years, Pearly Mae Mickens was a familiar figure to the police officers who patrolled Prospect Avenue, the main thoroughfare of New Cassel, sometimes panhandling, and sometimes asking officers to take her to the hospital because she was hearing voices.

That year, Ms. Brewer and a Queens man, Innocent Demesyeux, began a relationship, which produced a second child, Michael. The couple lived together off and on.

In between times, Ms. Brewer and her two children resided at her grandmother’s house — an arrangement that fell apart around 2006, after Ms. Brewer became pregnant by Mr. Demesyeux a second time, and her grandmother asked her to leave.

County child welfare caseworkers helped Ms. Brewer find the apartment at 819 Prospect Avenue, where her children would die. Mary Curtis, the deputy county executive for health and human services, said that Ms. Brewer also received rental assistance, food stamps, a stipend from the federal Women, Infants and Children program, and temporary help with day care.

Whatever help she got, family members say, the move to 819 Prospect marked the beginning of a downward spiral during which Ms. Brewer was alternately frantic with mothering and supporting her children and absent from them.

Ms. Brewer went back to work, and with the help of a baby sitter, continued to work after the birth of Innocent in the summer of 2006. Family members, including her grandmother, pleaded with Ms. Brewer to let the children live with them instead of being cared for by a stranger.

“There was a big argument in the family,” said Mr. Redd, the cousin. “But she wanted to prove to us that she could make it. Being that her mom had all that stuff in her life, she wanted to show that she was different.”

Nassau County records show that from 2003 until last week, caseworkers from Child Protective Services investigated nine complaints against Ms. Brewer brought by neighbors or members of her own family who alleged that she was neglecting her children, leaving them home unattended, or failing to send them to school.

The charges were deemed unfounded in six instances and verified in three, after which Ms. Brewer had to attend a class to improve her skills as a parent.

But her custody of the children was never in jeopardy, Dr. Curtis said. “When we spoke to the kids, they were not bruised, they looked well cared for, the house was clean,” Dr. Curtis said. “There did not seem to be a threat to the children.”

Asked if caseworkers were qualified to recognize mental instability, she said they probably were not, but added, "Being mentally ill is not automatically grounds for removing children from their mother."

The fathers of Ms. Brewer’s children thought differently. Both Mr. Ward and Mr. Demesyeux went to Nassau County Family Court to seek custody, claiming Ms. Brewer was mentally ill and neglectful and may have been abusing drugs.

The police were frequently summoned to the apartment after one father or the other tried to visit and violence erupted with Ms. Brewer, who was 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. Orders of protection were issued to all parties, but no criminal charges were filed.

Among the factors contributing to the failure of government to protect Ms. Brewer’s three children, officials said last week, were privacy regulations. Police, mental health, child protection and Family Court officials all had case files on the family, Dr. Curtis said, yet none was in communication with workers in the other agencies — a problem officials said they would try to remedy.

Ms. Brewer stopped working sometime in the last year. By some accounts, she was fired from her last job. Her behavior became more strange. Visitors to the apartment often found the children alone.

“You would ring the bell and the little girl would say, ‘No, my mommy’s not home, come back later,’ ” Calvin Cannon, a friend from the neighborhood, said.

Neighbors also noticed that Jewell was handling more and more of her brothers’ care. “She would change the baby’s diapers, wipe Michael’s nose, take care of the house, make sure they didn’t play near the stove, all that kind of stuff,” said Ms. Maddox, Ms. Brewer’s friend.

At Christmas, Ms. Brewer permitted Jewell to spend the evening with her father, Mr. Ward, at a relative’s home in Westbury. The relative, Mr. Brooks, Mr. Ward’s cousin, said Ms. Brewer telephoned the house several times an hour to check on Jewell and to find out when she would be returning home.

“She just called and called and called,” said Mr. Brooks, 21.

Two days before the children were killed, Mr. Demesyeux complained to Child Protective Services that while he was visiting her home, Ms. Brewer was behaving bizarrely and threatening to harm her children.

A caseworker was sent to investigate that day but found no one home. A second caseworker, dispatched that night, was also unable to get into the apartment. A night supervisor scheduled another visit for Sunday, instead of ordering a follow-up visit for Saturday; he was suspended without pay pending a department investigation.

Two days after the children were killed, Maebell Mickens, Ms. Brewer’s grandmother, visited her in the detention wing of the medical center, where she was being held under guard.

Ms. Mickens later said, according to an article in Newsday, that her granddaughter alternately denied and acknowledged what she had done to the children. She quoted Ms. Brewer, the child of Pearly Mae Mickens, as telling her, “The voices took control, and I had to do it.”

This article was reported by Richard G. Jones, Corey Kilgannon and Paul Vitello and written by Mr. Vitello.

Angela Macropoulos contributed reporting.



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