On New Year's Eve, less than two weeks before Prince George's County police charged Erica Mendell Daye with murder in the decapitation of her 5-year-old son, Daye put her "thoughts on paper" in a letter depicting a confused and lonely woman grappling with her drug abuse.

"How do I feel this New Year's Eve 86," the letter, which was dated "1-1-86," begins. "I feel lost simply put.

"I don't know where Erica has gone. I decided tonight to try and put my thoughts on paper . . . my handwriting is [expletive] because I'm . . . (high).

"Life has been pretty slow for me up to this point," the letter said. "But I plan to make up for lost time in 86. Looks like I'm bringing in the new year alone again. I must try. I cannot give up. I have the ability to do anything.

"Challenges always seem to be more than what we expect them to be but we must continue to at least try and make something of ourselves."

Homicide investigators found the four-page, handwritten letter, which was not addressed to anyone, Jan. 12 on a kitchen counter in Daye's apartment at 7950 18th Ave. in Adelphi. Daye's sister had called police after she entered the apartment and found the mutilated body of Daye's son, William DeLoach III, on a living-room couch.

Daye, 25, was charged the next day with first-degree murder in what police called the most "brutal and sadistic" homicide in county history. She is now being held in the county detention center and is scheduled to have a hearing this month to determine whether she should be evaluated by state psychiatrists.

Daye's arrest stunned many of her friends and relatives, some of whom described two different Erica Dayes in the aftermath of the slaying.

One was a loving mother who would do anything for her only child -- including buying him $137 worth of birthday toys with a bad check. The other Erica Daye was a woman who began using the drug PCP last fall and, in the week before her son's death, often talked about "people and demons" being after him.

In her letter, which has recently been added to her file in Prince George's County Circuit Court, Daye showed glimpses of both. She talked of her devotion to her son, whom she called "Billy," and of the problem associated with being a single mother. And Daye scolded herself for spending money on drugs.

"I feel so insecure," Daye, who had moved and changed jobs often, said in the letter. "I been involved in relationship after relationship and I'm at the end of my road because I cannot take anymore even as I write."

"I need a man, but I don't need a man," Daye continued. "What's a woman to do? How do you find a man in 86 and you're 25 with a kid? I love Billy so much it scares me. I hope I can. I will get over this stupid period of my life.

"I need some direction. I don't know which direction to go. I just want to get out of debt. I need some serious money. Speaking of which, . . . I [expletive] a lot of money on drugs. I finally admitted it . . . . (Do you ask why?) Because I'm stupid and I can't think. No more getting high."

"I must make a life for me out of this life even though I am weary."

Assistant State's Attorney Robert Harvey, who is prosecuting the case, has requested that Judge Howard S. Chasanow order Daye to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a state mental hospital to determine whether she is competent to stand trial.

But Daye's attorneys are opposing Harvey's request because Daye has not entered a plea of insanity in the case, one of the grounds under which the prosecution can have a defendant evaluated by its own psychiatrist. Daye was scheduled to be evaluated by a psychiatrist hired by her attorneys on April 30 at the detention center, according to court records.

Harvey and Leonard Stamm, one of Daye's attorneys, declined to comment about the case. Chasanow has scheduled a hearing on May 22 on the issue of psychiatric evaluations for her.