Mother accused of murder in baby’s drowning
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Mother accused of murder in baby’s drowning

Woman tells police the divine presence held her son underwater in hotel Jacuzzi; she thought he would emerge as messiah

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men attend the funeral of an infant boy who drowned to death in Ashdod, seen here during the burial ceremony at Kikar Hashabat, Jerusalem, on April 5, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men attend the funeral of an infant boy who drowned to death in Ashdod, seen here during the burial ceremony at Kikar Hashabat, Jerusalem, on April 5, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prosecutors filed a murder indictment Thursday against a woman who admitted to investigators that she held her infant son underwater in a hotel room Jacuzzi, claiming a divine voice had told her he would emerge from it as the messiah.

Among those who provided testimony in the case were the woman’s husband, who was asleep outside the bathroom at the time of the baby’s death, and her own mother, who found the baby drowned in the water.

The indictment was filed at the Beersheba District Court against the 28-year-old suspect, a resident of Jerusalem, despite a psychiatrist finding her unfit to stand trial. Previous reports said the couple lived in Beit Shemesh.

Police said in a statement that an investigation into the death immediately raised suspicions that it was a criminal incident, leading to a decision to arrest both parents. Although the father was later released as the investigation progressed, the mother provided investigators with several versions of what happened, and has been kept under arrest ever since.

According to the court papers, the woman, whose identity is banned from publication under a gag order, arrived at the Miami Hotel in southern port city of Ashdod on April 1 together with her husband and their two children: a boy, 7, and his one-month-old brother.

Other members of the mother’s extended family were staying at the hotel at the time, including her mother.

During the afternoon of April 2, as her husband lay asleep in bed, she took her baby son into the room’s Jacuzzi and then let him drown in the water, the prosecution said. The woman told investigators that the divine presence appeared before her and pushed the baby under the water. She let go of the baby, she told investigators, believing her son would emerge from the water as “the king messiah.”

The indictment said that as the tragedy was occurring, the woman’s mother, accompanied by the baby’s brother, knocked on two occasions on the door to the room, asking to be let inside, but was told to go away. On the third occasion, the door was opened and the grandmother discovered the baby floating in the water. Together with the husband, who had awoken, she tried to resuscitate the baby as emergency services were alerted. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate the infant and rushed him to the city’s Assuta Medical Center, but medical staff were unable to save his life.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protest against the autopsy of a baby who drowned to death in Ashdod, seen here during a demonstration in the Meah Shearim neighborhood, Jerusalem, on April 4, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The woman, who has a history of mental problems, is currently hospitalized in a psychiatric ward on court orders. A week after the tragedy a district psychiatrist ruled that she was not mentally fit to stand trial. Prosecutors asked that she be held under arrest until the end of proceedings.

“This is a tragic incident and an investigation that required great sensitivity in order to discover the truth in the most professional manner, without damaging the good reputation of innocent people,” police said.

Officers said that although the mother initially exercised her right to remain silent, later on the day of her arrest she told them that she was bathing the baby when she had the vision that led to his death.

The mother also tied her husband to the events. He was arrested but police found contradictions between his testimony and that of his wife. At some point, the father admitted he had made up some of the testimony he gave in an effort to protect his wife, after which he gave a more reliable version, police said.

The couple, who are ultra-Orthodox, objected to a police request to carry out an autopsy on the body to help determine the cause of death. Jewish tradition generally opposes autopsies on the grounds that the human body is sacred and should not be tampered with after death.

In the end, an autopsy was performed in the presence of a doctor picked by the family, after the High Court accepted the police request.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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