A New York woman found not guilty because of mental disease in the 2008 drowning of her three children may not share in their $350,000 estate, despite never being convicted of a crime in their deaths, a judge ruled Wednesday.
The precedent setting case sought to determine if the state's Son of Sam law, which seeks to ban criminals from profiting from their crimes, applied to Leatrice Brewer. According to Nassau County Surrogate's Court Judge Edward McCarty, the answer is no — but the woman still shouldn't get the money.
"The fact that the state cannot criminally punish an insane defendant is irrelevant to a determination of whether it is equitable for the killer to inherit from the victim," McCarty said, referring to his decision as the Brewer Rule.
"It is one thing to say that the state should not imprison one who was insane when she committed the murder. It is quite another to say that the insane murderer can financially profit from her crime," the judge said.
Brewer, 33, was found not guilty because of mental disease in the 2008 killings of her three children inside their New Cassel apartment, and was sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Police said Brewer slashed her daughter Jewell Ward's throat before drowning the 6-year-old and her two younger brothers, believing she was saving them from the deadly effects of voodoo.
Hours later, Brewer survived two suicide attempts — swallowing a concoction of home cleaning fluids and later jumping out a second-story window.
Brewer was brought Wednesday from an upstate New York psychiatric center for the court proceeding, but she did not comment. After the judge issued his order, she briefly stopped to kiss her grandmother and speak with other relatives.
The children's fathers settled wrongful death lawsuits with Nassau County after they claimed social workers failed to properly monitor the woman and children. Caseworkers visited Brewer's apartment two days before the killings and found no one home but neglected to schedule an immediate follow-up visit.
Brewer subsequently filed an objection to the fathers receiving the settlement money.
Innocent Demesyeux Sr. is the father of 5-year-old Michael and 18-month Innocent Demesyeux who were killed; Ricky Ward is Jewell's father.
But in his ruling, the judge said, "There is a direct causal link between her wrongdoing and the benefit she seeks. The funds only exist because of Ms. Brewer's wrongful conduct. But for her killing of Jewel, Innocent and Michael, there would be no funds to allocate."
Even if McCarty had ruled for Brewer, she likely would have never cashed a check from her children's estate because, as a state official noted during Wednesday's proceeding, there is a $1.3 million lien against Brewer for medical and mental health services she has received while in custody.
The judge said he planned a separate hearing — likely in December — to determine whether the fathers legally abandoned their children, which could potentially disqualify them from receiving the money as well. It was not clear who would be next in line for the estate money if that happens.
Brewer's court-appointed attorneys did not comment after the proceeding, but during a hearing Wednesday morning, attorney Peter Kelly said Brewer's motivation was to block Demesyeux from getting the money.
Demesyeux did not attend Wednesday's proceeding, but his attorney, Thomas Foley, rejected any suggestion that the man had abandoned his children.