The mother of a 6-year-old boy who was found facedown and bound in a water-filled bathtub told authorities she killed her son and expressed suicidal thoughts, according to court papers requesting psychiatric evaluation.
The court papers, filed last week by police and the city's Department of Mental Health, provide the most in-depth look so far into the mental state of Julia Barber, the mother of Donmiguel Nathaniel Wilson Jr. She emerged as a suspect soon after his body was found July 18 in their Southeast Washington apartment, police officials said.
Barber, 27, has a history of psychiatric problems, according to the court documents. After a lengthy interrogation by police detectives, authorities decided to seek her hospitalization in a city psychiatric facility for emergency observation and diagnosis. No charges have been filed as prosecutors review evidence and await further results of her mental health evaluations.
The court papers -- filed as part of the mental health proceedings -- were prepared by a D.C. police detective and psychiatrists. The doctors wrote that Barber appeared to be suffering from depression and required immediate hospitalization.
The detective wrote that Barber "reported hearing voices" and was talking to herself. Barber also made statements to police "suggesting suicide," such as talking about "God calling her home and her desire to answer his calling," wrote Linda Wingate, the detective.
A District psychiatrist wrote that Barber "reported killing her son" and added that her judgment and insight about her actions seemed "poor and impaired." The court papers provide no details about the killing. Police officials have said that Donmiguel's ankles and wrists were bound and that he was left in the tub beneath a pillow and blanket. He died of suffocation, drowning and head injuries, authorities said.
Another of the city's doctors noted that Barber had attempted suicide as a teenager.
After reviewing the court filings, D.C. Superior Judge Ronna Lee Beck issued an order to hold Barber for a seven-day period ending Wednesday at St. Elizabeths Hospital. Authorities could seek to keep her hospitalized, depending upon the doctors' findings.
Relatives said that Barber had no plans to seek permission to attend her son's funeral today at First Rock Baptist Church in Southeast Washington.
"Right now, we are both in agreement that it would be too much for her," said Brazil Smith, Barber's grandfather. "I realize it now that she is ill, and I don't think she should see him."
Smith said he does not believe Barber will be charged with a crime, adding that she had been having serious mental problems in the days before Donmiguel was slain.
"She was basically out of her mind, for lack of a better term," Smith said. "I think her mind snapped, and I think it's pretty evident. She started having problems and seeing visions and hearing voices. She was asking for help and didn't know how to say what kind of help she needed."
Over the last few days, relatives and friends have visited Barber, who was initially held at a facility on the grounds of the former D.C. General Hospital but was transferred to St. Elizabeths, the city's psychiatric hospital in Southeast Washington. Smith said she seemed to be doing better.
Another of Barber's children, an 11-month-old son, was placed under the care of the city's child welfare authorities after the killing. Smith said that he is making arrangements to possibly take custody of the boy.
Donmiguel is one of eight juvenile homicide victims in the District this year, and one of 32 since January 2004. Although no charges have been filed, detectives believe Barber implicated herself in Donmiguel's slaying during a long, rambling interrogation that was videotaped, police officials have said.
A conversation between Barber and her mother about Donmiguel's death also was videotaped, police officials have said. Barber's mother discovered the body in the apartment on Wheeler Road SE.
Prosecutors are wrestling with how to get Barber's statements admitted into evidence, two law enforcement officials said.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing, said Barber asked to leave during the interrogation, but police managed to continue questioning her. Depending on the circumstances, such a request should have ended the questioning and could make it difficult to get the statements before a jury, according to legal experts.
Joseph Murtha, a former prosecutor and defense lawyer in Maryland, said Barber's mental state also could prove problematic for prosecutors. Because police had her admitted to a mental institution, a defense lawyer probably will question whether she was competent to be interrogated, Murtha said.
"Any person who has compromised mental health is very vulnerable to suggestion and, quite honestly, is easily manipulated into saying things that aren't always accurate," Murtha said.
David Schertler, a defense lawyer and former chief of the homicide unit of the U.S. attorney's office in the District, said prosecutors probably are scrutinizing the evidence because they are worried about getting Barber's statements introduced at trial.
"They are going to want to take as much time as possible to build a case with other types of evidence before they make an arrest," Schertler said. "If they had sufficient evidence, they would have arrested her."
Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to comment, saying that the investigation is ongoing.
Staff writer Nia-Malika Henderson contributed to this report.