An Aug. 14 Metro article about the arrest of Julia Barber misstated the scheduled date of her hearing before the D.C. mental health commission. The hearing is scheduled for today, not Thursday. (Published 8/16/2005)
The mother suspected of drowning her 6-year-old son last month in their Southeast Washington apartment was arrested yesterday at St. Elizabeths Hospital and charged with murder.
Julia Barber, 27, had been hospitalized after telling detectives she was hearing voices and suggesting that she was suicidal, and until yesterday's arrest, the outcome of the criminal investigation appeared uncertain.
But in piecing together the killing and the events preceding and following it, investigators overcame the initial concerns of prosecutors, who had questioned the way the interrogation had been conducted.
The boy, Donmiguel Nathaniel Wilson Jr., was found July 18 facedown in a bathtub full of water in the family's apartment on Wheeler Road SE.
His body was under a blanket and a pillow, and his wrists and ankles were bound. An autopsy determined that the cause of death was drowning, suffocation and head trauma.
During the interrogation, Barber made a rambling statement implicating herself in the death, police officials have said. But Barber's indication of mental illness led detectives to stop talking with her, and questions quickly arose about the admissibility of statements she had made during the videotaped interrogation.
At one point, she asked to leave, but detectives continued to question her, a tactic that gave prosecutors pause when they reviewed the evidence, law enforcement sources have said.
With Barber being held at St. Elizabeths, investigators had been trying to bolster the case against the woman, and yesterday morning detectives from the D.C. police's special victims unit took Barber into custody on a charge of first-degree felony murder.
"She deserves everything she's got coming," the boy's father, Donmiguel Wilson Sr., said yesterday afternoon.
Felony murder is frequently the charge when a person is killed in the course of another serious crime but when murder was not the intent. In this case, the underlying allegation is cruelty to children.
Barber's mental state and mental health history are likely to become a central part of the criminal case against her.
Deemed by a District psychiatrist to be a danger to herself or others, Barber is scheduled for a hearing before the city's mental health commission Thursday in D.C. Superior Court.
If the commission, made up of a judge and two mental health professionals, finds that Barber is a danger, it will recommend that she be committed to St. Elizabeths for as long as a year.
But before then, Barber could face further psychiatric scrutiny. When she appears in D.C. Superior Court tomorrow, her attorneys or prosecutors could request an exam to determine whether she is competent to stand trial.
If her attorneys believe that she might not understand the difference between right and wrong or that she did not at the time of her son's death, they may seek additional psychiatric examination with an eye toward an insanity defense.
"She's got to be crazy to do something like that," the boy's father said. "She's got to be sick."
But he is not so sure that she should escape punishment, he said.
"God works in mysterious ways," he said. "If she needs help, she should get the help she needs. But if she doesn't need help, then she should get all the hard time she's got coming to her."