Mother who drove kids into ocean off Daytona Beach takes stand

Ebony Wilkerson found not guilty of child abuse by reason of insanity

The Insider
The Insider

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A day after a public defender fainted and collapsed in a Volusia County courtroom, testimony continued in the case of a woman who drove her children into the ocean off Daytona Beach with her taking the stand.


Circuit Judge Leah Case ruled last week that Ebony Wilkerson, 33, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, was not guilty by reason of insanity of child abuse, and prosecutors dropped attempted murder charges against her.

[VIDEO: Attorney faints in courtroom]

Case must now determine whether Wilkerson should be forcibly hospitalized.

Wilkerson took the stand on Wednesday morning and decided to get her tubes tied on Thursday. A judge will make a decision on if Wilkerson will be hospitalized on Tuesday.

"I decided to that because I wanted to do whatever it takes, whatever I can to prevent me from having any psychotic problems," Wilkerson said on the stand Wednesday. " I also wanted to not have any more babies and I felt like this will be a good opportunity for me to control anything other than you know, any problems."

Wilkerson also described the incident where she drove her kids into the ocean.

"I felt like the Holy Spirit was with me. I remember thinking that my children and me needed to be cleansed. And... I remember thinking that God was with me and I had to get close to the water. And, I just kept going and kept following the Holy Spirit. I was following the Holy Spirit wherever it went," she said. "I understand that something could have happened to me and my children when I was in that psychosis."

All medical experts the defense questioned say that Wilkerson is now mentally stable and doesn't need hospitalization.

The defense believes she needs to be in mental facility to prevent her from harming herself and others.

Julianne Morris, who's representing Wilkerson, collapsed while questioning Dr. Jeffrey Danziger, a psychiatrist.  The courtroom was cleared and emergency officials tended to Morris, who appeared to be OK.

Morris was back in court Wednesday as the hearing continued.

The hearing started off Wednesday morning with the defense calling on Danziger to talk more about Wilkerson's state of mind. Danziger said her symptoms of illness are now in remission and that Wilkerson hasn't had a psychotic episode in the last 9 months.

"She's been compliant to all of the appointments, taking her medications, has not had to be readmitted to the hospital, has not been 'Baker Acted,' has not attempted to harm herself or anyone else," he said. "Conversely, my understanding is that she's been quite stable."

Danziger said Wilkerson should continue treatment, but hospitalization is not the answer.

"Speaking as a doctor, a clinician, I don't put people in the hospital when they're doing well. I put them in the hospital when they're doing badly and having active symptoms," he said.

The state asked several questions about Wilkerson's past episodes, starting back in 2005 and Danziger agreed that if Wilkerson had another episode, it could be fatal.

But Danziger said that he is confident that treatment, along with her decision of getting her tubes tied could help control future incidents.

"This is not something that I suggested to her or the legal team suggested to her, I want to make that clear. This is someone who said to me, 'hey, I've had four children already, I know that my two lifetime episodes were associated with pregnancy, I don't want to have any more children and this should help minimize the risk of a future episode,'" Danziger said.

On Tuesday, Dr. William Meadows, a psychologist hired by prosecutors, said Wilkerson needs to be hospitalized so she can get a handle on her mental illness. 

Meadows' testimony contradicted that of a defense psychiatrist who said earlier in the day that Wilkerson's mental illness appeared to be in remission.

Meadows said Wilkerson has shown an unwillingness to admit she has mental illness. He also said what happened in March was similar to a 2005 episode when Wilkerson was hearing voices to kill her family and herself.

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