DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – A South Carolina mother who drove her three children into the ocean off Daytona Beach testified during a hearing to determine whether she should be forcibly confined that she recognizes she is mentally ill and wants to do whatever is necessary to get better.
Ebony Wilkerson was the final witness called by defense attorneys Wednesday to wrap up a two-day hearing to determine whether she should be hospitalized or released with court supervision. Last week Judge Leah Case ruled that Wilkerson was not guilty by reason of insanity on charges of child abuse, and prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges.
Wilkerson teared up at times as she described the March incident, but said she believes her mental health has improved in the nine months since then.
“I feel stable. I feel like I want to do better for myself,” the 33-year-old Wilkerson said. “I understand something could have happened to me and my children when I was in my psychosis … I didn’t realize the seriousness of it at the time of the incident.”
Case heard arguments late Wednesday and said she would review the testimony before issuing a ruling next week.
Wilkerson drove her van into the surf off Daytona Beach in March. Video captured bystanders and police officers pulling 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.
“I was thinking I was protecting my children,” she said Wednesday. “I thought I was helping my children.”
Wilkerson said that she realizes now that the “angels and demons” she recalled seeing during the incident were not real and that with the help of her doctor and therapist she is now able to recognize signs of possible future psychosis.
Defense attorney Julie Morris said that because the court found Wilkerson to be mentally impaired previously, it should try to rehabilitate and not punish her.
“Ebony Wilkerson has not been convicted of any crime,” Morris said in a closing argument.
Also testifying Wednesday was a doctor who treated Wilkerson since shortly after the March incident who said that her mental illness is in remission and she’s done fine getting outpatient treatment.
“At this point, she’s at a normal mental state,” Dr. Antonio Canaan said. “What would be the purpose (of confinement), would be my question.”
A prosecution psychologist previously testified that Wilkerson needs to be confined for treatment.
State attorney Kevin Sullivan questioned the level of care Wilkerson has received, noting that Canaan has adjusted his original diagnosis. Sullivan also insisted that keeping Wilkerson under court-ordered treatment would be the best approach to ensure both she and her children were safe.
“This isn’t to hospitalize and punish her,” Sullivan said. “It’s to give her the help she needs.”