DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A South Carolina mother was insane when she drove her three children into the ocean and therefore not guilty of child abuse, a Florida judge determined Friday.
Prosecutors, in turn, dropped three attempted murder counts against Ebony Wilkerson.
After ruling that Wilkerson, 33, was not guilty by reason of insanity of the three child-abuse counts, Circuit Judge Leah Case ordered a hearing next week to determine whether the woman should be involuntarily hospitalized for treatment or released with court supervision. The judge and attorneys said the plea and subsequent hearing were rare.
"This is kind of out of the ordinary, and we've been doing this a long time," Case said.
After the hearing, assistant public defender Craig Dyer said he had been practicing law for 37 years, "and this is my first time" participating in this type of hearing.
The deal between prosecutors and Wilkerson's attorneys was reached this week after a psychologist hired by prosecutors agreed with a defense psychologist that Wilkerson had a psychotic break during the incident.
Wilkerson drove her van into the surf off Daytona Beach in March. Bystanders and officers pulled her and her children from the van.
Immediately after driving into the ocean, a then-pregnant Wilkerson told a Daytona Beach safety officer that she was abused by her husband, accusations he later denied. She gave birth to her son after her arrest, and her husband took custody of the child. The other children are in state custody, and she has been denied permission to see them.
During next week's hearing, the judge will consider testimony and depositions from psychologists who evaluated Wilkerson in the weeks after her arrest.
Wilkerson told the judge Friday that she would waive her right to a jury trial. She said she was mentally competent to make that decision and wasn't under the influence of drugs or alcohol. When the judge asked her whether she was thinking clearly, Wilkerson said, "Yes, I am."