Debate over stability of mom who drove in ocean

NBC News

Debate over stability of mom who drove in ocean

By Mike Schneider, Associated Press | Posted - Dec. 16, 2014 at 3:42 p.m.



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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Two doctors offered conflicting testimony Tuesday on whether a South Carolina mother who drove her three children into the ocean off Daytona Beach needs to be forcibly confined for mental-health treatment.

Dr. Jeffrey Danziger, a psychiatrist for the defense, testified that 33-year-old Ebony Wilkerson's mental crisis last March was likely triggered by her pregnancy but that her symptoms disappeared after she gave birth to her child while in jail. Wilkerson's mental illness appears to be in remission, and there is nothing in her behavior to indicate that she is dangerous, Danziger said.

"She has done well in the past seven months," the psychiatrist said.

But in the afternoon, Dr. William Meadows, a psychologist, argued that Wilkerson needs to be confined for treatment so she can get a handle on her mental illness. She has shown an unwillingness to admit she has mental illness, Meadows said, and what happened last March was similar to a 2005 episode when Wilkerson was hearing voices to kill her family and herself.

"We don't have a handle on what's going on with her," Meadows said. "She is unwilling to admit to these difficulties. She lacks insight into these difficulties. That lack of insight is a major risk factor."

Circuit Judge Leah Case ruled last week that Wilkerson was not guilty by reason of insanity of child abuse, and prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges. The judge must now determine whether Wilkerson should be forcibly hospitalized, released under certain conditions or released with no conditions.

Wilkerson's attorneys planned to continue making their case against confinement Wednesday morning. Their presentation was interrupted when one of Wilkerson's attorney, Juliane Morris, fainted at a podium while questioning Danziger. She quickly regained consciousness. Court was in recess while paramedics attended to her.

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She had a rapidly fluctuating illness. Though she had a psychiatric disorder, it didn't neatly fit a category.

–Dr. Jeffrey Danziger


Wilkerson is prohibited from seeing her children, but Danziger said she has hopes that will change. The three children involved in the ocean incident are in state custody, and her newborn is with her husband.

Wilkerson's mental illness appears to be in remission, and there is nothing in her behavior to indicate that she is dangerous, Danziger said.

"She has done well in the past seven months," the psychiatrist said.

Danziger's testimony was interrupted after Wilkerson's attorney, Julie Morris, fainted at a podium while questioning him. She quickly regained consciousness. Court was in recess while paramedics attended to her.

When court resumed, Morris was absent from the courtroom, though Wilkerson's other attorneys were present. The judge said the defense would finish presenting its case Wednesday morning.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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