Psycho mom's not guilty
Court: Didn't know drowning girl in exorcism
By Barbara Ross - New York Daily News
June 26, 2003
A mentally ill mom who drowned her 4-year-old
daughter in a bizarre exorcism was found not responsible for the
child's death by a Manhattan judge. Sabrina Wright's mental state
drove her to kill Signifagance Oliver in her Washington Heights
apartment in November 2001, the judge found in accepting a plea
Wright, 31, who is now on antipsychotic drugs,
said she thought her daughter was possessed by the devil and
believed she could save her by dunking her in a full bathtub. "I
put her in the tub and tried to bless her," Wright told the judge.
"I had her in the water and I was trying to bless her with the
The plea agreement means Wright is not guilty
because her severe mental illness prevented her from understanding
that what she was doing was wrong. She will remain in custody, and
state psychiatrists will evaluate her to determine whether she is
mentally ill and dangerous. Fitzgerald told Wright that she could
spend the rest of her life in mental hospitals. Assistant District
Attorney Susan Broderick said prosecutors agreed to the plea
because their psychiatrist agreed with a defense doctor that
Wright was severely mentally ill and didn't understand what she
was doing. Sick and dangerous Broderick noted that defense
psychiatrist Robert Berger concluded Wright was both ill and
dangerous and should be in "a secure forensic inpatient facility."
Her lawyer, Daniel Gotlin, said his client has
been in and out of mental hospitals since she was 7 and was
hospitalized again months before the drowning. Gotlin blamed
Virginia's courts for the tragedy, saying officials there returned
the girl and her twin sister, Ellagance, to Wright without an
interview after New York authorities had removed the children
because Wright abused them.
'Exorcist' mom admits
By Laura Italiano - NYPost.com
June 26, 2003
The saga of a 4-year-old girl who was drowned
in a bathtub "exorcism" by her psychotic mother came to a quiet
end yesterday, when the mom tearfully confessed to the murder in a
brief Manhattan court appearance.
"I put her in the tub and tried to bless her,"
the mother, Sabrina Wright, 31, of Washington Heights told the
The confession will lead to her being confined
indefinitely in a mental institution.
"I had her in the water and I was trying to
bless her in the water," Wright said, sobbing.
When Supreme Court Justice Daniel Fitzgerald,
prodded her - "And you held her under the water?" - Wright sobbed
"Too long," she said.
Little Signifagance Oliver was doomed from the
start. The girl and her surviving twin, Ellagance, were born to a
woman with longstanding mental illness.
Wright was first treated in 1979, at age 7,
said prosecutor Susan Broderick. By 11, she had her first
institutionalization, in Elmhurst Hospital.
Since then, she's been in and out of
psychiatric hospitals, and given birth to four children.
The two oldest were permanently taken from her
by child-welfare officials. The twin girls were sent to live with
an aunt in Virginia.
But then came a mistake that would prove fatal.
The aunt was having a tough time with the girls, and when Wright
went to Virginia in 2000 to ask for them back, officials there
turned them over without examining Wright or checking her history,
said her lawyer, Daniel Gotlin.
Some six months later, Wright lost it
completely. She began making daily calls to cops, complaining that
strange men, "Mexicans," were looking in her window. Cops saw her
filthy West 160th Street apartment, and did nothing.
On Nov 13, 2001, Wright called EMS, saying her
child needed oxygen. When medics arrived and told her that
Signifagance was dead, Wright said, "We got power. Together we're
strong. Nobody is going to separate us."
Wright had believed the girl was "evil" and
"possessed" by the spirit of Wright's own dead mother. She'd seen
an exorcism on TV, in which someone was apparently held under
Yesterday, Wright was on heavy tranquilizers
"Medications," she told the judge, "make me
feel better, to understand everybody."
Mother Drowned Daughter, 4,
In Exorcism Rite, Police Say
By Jacob H. Fries - The New York Times
November 14, 2001
A Washington Heights
woman was charged yesterday in the drowning death of her
4-year-old daughter, and officials said the woman told
investigators that she had been trying to exorcise the child of
The woman, Sabrina
Wright, 29, was charged with murder in the death of her daughter,
Signifagance Oliver, after an autopsy conducted yesterday
determined that the child had been drowned, the police said.
The authorities said
they were trying to determine how the mother had come into contact
with Signifagance and her twin sister, Ellagance. She had lost
custody of the twins and two older children in July 1997 after the
city's Administration for Children's Services found evidence of
physical abuse, an agency spokeswoman said.
It was unclear yesterday
exactly how long the twins had been under Ms. Wright's
''There is a joint
investigation between the A.C.S. and N.Y.P.D. into how these two
little girls ended up in the custody of their mother,'' said the
Children's Services spokeswoman, Jennifer Falk.
Ms. Falk said that the
twins, who had been placed in foster care shortly after their
birth in 1997, were placed in the care of an out-of-state aunt in
April 1999. The agency had assumed the children were still with
the paternal aunt, whose name was not immediately released last
night, Ms. Falk said. Detectives were looking to interview the
aunt last night.
Officers had been called
to Ms. Wright's apartment, at 550 West 160th Street, shortly
before 5 a.m. yesterday, the police said. When they arrived, they
found Signifagance dead and Ellagance in good condition, they
said. Ms. Wright was taken into custody and sent to a local
hospital for evaluation after she told detectives the child was
possessed by demons, the police said.
Ellagance was taken to
Columbia-Presbyterian Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital,
where she remained in good condition, the police said.
Yesterday, as Ms.
Wright's neighbors began to form a makeshift memorial of candles
outside her apartment, they recalled a woman prone to swearing
loudly, picking fights with neighbors and shifting moods abruptly.
''She had two faces,''
said Ramona Garcia, 40, who lives on the same block as Ms. Wright.
She said her son, Raymond, had knocked on Ms. Wright's door on
Monday to play with the twins, but was sent away with Ms. Wright
screaming and throwing salt.
''Sometimes she would be
nice, and other times she would be scary,'' Ms. Garcia said.
Some neighbors reported
seeing the twins for the past year and a half, while others said
the pair moved in with Ms. Wright during the summer. Most
expressed shock at the little girl's death.
''She always seemed at
peace with her kids,'' said Tanya Davis, 31, who lives across West
160th Street. Ms. Davis said the twins were often dressed
identically, from headbands to shoes. ''The kids were very
respectful,'' she said.
Other neighbors from the
block, which is lined with graffiti-scarred five- and six-story
walk-ups, told of a woman who would turn aggressive and
confrontational without much notice.
Ms. Falk said her agency
first investigated Ms. Wright in December 1992 on charges of
physical abuse and removed her two older children, now ages 10 and
11. In July 1997, three months after the twins were born, the two
oldest children were returned to Ms. Wright on a trial basis.
After several days, however, there was another report of domestic
violence and all four children were placed in foster care, she
Ms. Wright's parental
rights to the two older children were dissolved and they remained
in foster care, Ms. Falk said. In the case of the twins, a
paternal aunt petitioned for custody, which was granted in
February 1999, she said. The twins then moved in with the aunt,
and child welfare officials in that state found in two reports, in
April and December of that year, that the twins were doing well,
Ms. Falk said. The case was then closed, she said.
Cops: Mom drowns girl, 4, in
By Philip Messing, Ed Robinson and William
Neuman - NYPost.com
November 14, 2001
A Washington Heights woman drowned her
4-year-old daughter in a bathtub because she thought the girl was
possessed, police said yesterday.
The girl, Signifagance Oliver, and her twin
sister, Ellagance, were supposed to be living with an aunt in
Virginia - and cops were trying to find out how they landed back
in the hands of their mother, who has a history of child abuse.
Sabrina Wright told police she heard her own
mother's voice coming out of her daughter's body - and held
Signifagance down in a tub of water, authorities said.
"She was trying to exorcise some demons," said
Administration for Children's Services spokeswoman Jennifer Falk.
Signifagance, who was known as Betty, and
Ellagance, who is known as Brenda, were sent in early 1999 to live
with the Virginia relative, described as a paternal aunt.
The aunt, who was not identified, was given
custody, and New York authorities ceased monitoring the girls in
December 1999, Falk said. It wasn't clear if Virginia welfare
officials had taken over their case.
At some point, Wright took the children back,
although police are not sure how long ago that occurred, and they
were searching for the aunt yesterday.
Cops found the drowned girl after they were
called to Wright's apartment on West 160th Street shortly before 5
a.m. Monday. She was charged with murder yesterday.
Ellagance was also in the apartment, but she
was not harmed.
Wright has at least two other children, a boy,
10, and a girl, 11, who were first taken away from their mother
and put in foster care in 1992, after reports they had been
physically abused, Falk said.
In July 1997, the boy and girl were reunited
with their mother following the birth of their half-sisters.
But a short time after the reunion, all four
children were taken from Wright when authorities received a report
of domestic violence, Falk said.