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Sabrina WRIGHT






Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Wright had believed the girl was "evil" and "possessed" by the spirit of Wright's own dead mother
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: November 13, 2001
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1972
Victim profile: Signifagance Oliver, 4 (her daughter)
Method of murder: Drowning in a bathtub
Location: Washington Heights, New York City, New York County, USA
Status: Found nor responsible on June 25, 2003. Confined indefinitely in a mental institution

Psycho mom's not guilty

Court: Didn't know drowning girl in exorcism was wrong

By Barbara Ross - New York Daily News

June 26, 2003

A mentally ill mom who drowned her 4-year-old daughter in a bizarre exorcism was found not responsible for the child's death by a Manhattan judge. Sabrina Wright's mental state drove her to kill Signifagance Oliver in her Washington Heights apartment in November 2001, the judge found in accepting a plea deal.

Wright, 31, who is now on antipsychotic drugs, said she thought her daughter was possessed by the devil and believed she could save her by dunking her in a full bathtub. "I put her in the tub and tried to bless her," Wright told the judge. "I had her in the water and I was trying to bless her with the water.

The plea agreement means Wright is not guilty because her severe mental illness prevented her from understanding that what she was doing was wrong. She will remain in custody, and state psychiatrists will evaluate her to determine whether she is mentally ill and dangerous. Fitzgerald told Wright that she could spend the rest of her life in mental hospitals. Assistant District Attorney Susan Broderick said prosecutors agreed to the plea because their psychiatrist agreed with a defense doctor that Wright was severely mentally ill and didn't understand what she was doing. Sick and dangerous Broderick noted that defense psychiatrist Robert Berger concluded Wright was both ill and dangerous and should be in "a secure forensic inpatient facility."

Her lawyer, Daniel Gotlin, said his client has been in and out of mental hospitals since she was 7 and was hospitalized again months before the drowning. Gotlin blamed Virginia's courts for the tragedy, saying officials there returned the girl and her twin sister, Ellagance, to Wright without an interview after New York authorities had removed the children because Wright abused them.


'Exorcist' mom admits drowning girl

By Laura Italiano -

June 26, 2003

The saga of a 4-year-old girl who was drowned in a bathtub "exorcism" by her psychotic mother came to a quiet end yesterday, when the mom tearfully confessed to the murder in a brief Manhattan court appearance.

"I put her in the tub and tried to bless her," the mother, Sabrina Wright, 31, of Washington Heights told the judge.

The confession will lead to her being confined indefinitely in a mental institution.

"I had her in the water and I was trying to bless her in the water," Wright said, sobbing.

When Supreme Court Justice Daniel Fitzgerald, prodded her - "And you held her under the water?" - Wright sobbed again.

"Too long," she said.

Little Signifagance Oliver was doomed from the start. The girl and her surviving twin, Ellagance, were born to a woman with longstanding mental illness.

Wright was first treated in 1979, at age 7, said prosecutor Susan Broderick. By 11, she had her first institutionalization, in Elmhurst Hospital.

Since then, she's been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and given birth to four children.

The two oldest were permanently taken from her by child-welfare officials. The twin girls were sent to live with an aunt in Virginia.

But then came a mistake that would prove fatal. The aunt was having a tough time with the girls, and when Wright went to Virginia in 2000 to ask for them back, officials there turned them over without examining Wright or checking her history, said her lawyer, Daniel Gotlin.

Some six months later, Wright lost it completely. She began making daily calls to cops, complaining that strange men, "Mexicans," were looking in her window. Cops saw her filthy West 160th Street apartment, and did nothing.

On Nov 13, 2001, Wright called EMS, saying her child needed oxygen. When medics arrived and told her that Signifagance was dead, Wright said, "We got power. Together we're strong. Nobody is going to separate us."

Wright had believed the girl was "evil" and "possessed" by the spirit of Wright's own dead mother. She'd seen an exorcism on TV, in which someone was apparently held under water.

Yesterday, Wright was on heavy tranquilizers and anti-psychotics.

"Medications," she told the judge, "make me feel better, to understand everybody."


Mother Drowned Daughter, 4, In Exorcism Rite, Police Say

By Jacob H. Fries - The New York Times

November 14, 2001

A Washington Heights woman was charged yesterday in the drowning death of her 4-year-old daughter, and officials said the woman told investigators that she had been trying to exorcise the child of demons.

The woman, Sabrina Wright, 29, was charged with murder in the death of her daughter, Signifagance Oliver, after an autopsy conducted yesterday determined that the child had been drowned, the police said.

The authorities said they were trying to determine how the mother had come into contact with Signifagance and her twin sister, Ellagance. She had lost custody of the twins and two older children in July 1997 after the city's Administration for Children's Services found evidence of physical abuse, an agency spokeswoman said.

It was unclear yesterday exactly how long the twins had been under Ms. Wright's supervision.

''There is a joint investigation between the A.C.S. and N.Y.P.D. into how these two little girls ended up in the custody of their mother,'' said the Children's Services spokeswoman, Jennifer Falk.

Ms. Falk said that the twins, who had been placed in foster care shortly after their birth in 1997, were placed in the care of an out-of-state aunt in April 1999. The agency had assumed the children were still with the paternal aunt, whose name was not immediately released last night, Ms. Falk said. Detectives were looking to interview the aunt last night.

Officers had been called to Ms. Wright's apartment, at 550 West 160th Street, shortly before 5 a.m. yesterday, the police said. When they arrived, they found Signifagance dead and Ellagance in good condition, they said. Ms. Wright was taken into custody and sent to a local hospital for evaluation after she told detectives the child was possessed by demons, the police said.

Ellagance was taken to Columbia-Presbyterian Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where she remained in good condition, the police said.

Yesterday, as Ms. Wright's neighbors began to form a makeshift memorial of candles outside her apartment, they recalled a woman prone to swearing loudly, picking fights with neighbors and shifting moods abruptly.

''She had two faces,'' said Ramona Garcia, 40, who lives on the same block as Ms. Wright. She said her son, Raymond, had knocked on Ms. Wright's door on Monday to play with the twins, but was sent away with Ms. Wright screaming and throwing salt.

''Sometimes she would be nice, and other times she would be scary,'' Ms. Garcia said.

Some neighbors reported seeing the twins for the past year and a half, while others said the pair moved in with Ms. Wright during the summer. Most expressed shock at the little girl's death.

''She always seemed at peace with her kids,'' said Tanya Davis, 31, who lives across West 160th Street. Ms. Davis said the twins were often dressed identically, from headbands to shoes. ''The kids were very respectful,'' she said.

Other neighbors from the block, which is lined with graffiti-scarred five- and six-story walk-ups, told of a woman who would turn aggressive and confrontational without much notice.

Ms. Falk said her agency first investigated Ms. Wright in December 1992 on charges of physical abuse and removed her two older children, now ages 10 and 11. In July 1997, three months after the twins were born, the two oldest children were returned to Ms. Wright on a trial basis. After several days, however, there was another report of domestic violence and all four children were placed in foster care, she said.

Ms. Wright's parental rights to the two older children were dissolved and they remained in foster care, Ms. Falk said. In the case of the twins, a paternal aunt petitioned for custody, which was granted in February 1999, she said. The twins then moved in with the aunt, and child welfare officials in that state found in two reports, in April and December of that year, that the twins were doing well, Ms. Falk said. The case was then closed, she said.


Cops: Mom drowns girl, 4, in exorcism

By Philip Messing, Ed Robinson and William Neuman -

November 14, 2001

A Washington Heights woman drowned her 4-year-old daughter in a bathtub because she thought the girl was possessed, police said yesterday.

The girl, Signifagance Oliver, and her twin sister, Ellagance, were supposed to be living with an aunt in Virginia - and cops were trying to find out how they landed back in the hands of their mother, who has a history of child abuse.

Sabrina Wright told police she heard her own mother's voice coming out of her daughter's body - and held Signifagance down in a tub of water, authorities said.

"She was trying to exorcise some demons," said Administration for Children's Services spokeswoman Jennifer Falk.

Signifagance, who was known as Betty, and Ellagance, who is known as Brenda, were sent in early 1999 to live with the Virginia relative, described as a paternal aunt.

The aunt, who was not identified, was given custody, and New York authorities ceased monitoring the girls in December 1999, Falk said. It wasn't clear if Virginia welfare officials had taken over their case.

At some point, Wright took the children back, although police are not sure how long ago that occurred, and they were searching for the aunt yesterday.

Cops found the drowned girl after they were called to Wright's apartment on West 160th Street shortly before 5 a.m. Monday. She was charged with murder yesterday.

Ellagance was also in the apartment, but she was not harmed.

Wright has at least two other children, a boy, 10, and a girl, 11, who were first taken away from their mother and put in foster care in 1992, after reports they had been physically abused, Falk said.

In July 1997, the boy and girl were reunited with their mother following the birth of their half-sisters.

But a short time after the reunion, all four children were taken from Wright when authorities received a report of domestic violence, Falk said.



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