WARNING: Disturbing content
A little boy has given a harrowing account of being nearly drowned by his mother and watching his five-year-old brother die when she allegedly turned on him, in a police interview played in court.
The child, who told detectives his favourite cartoon character was the purple Ninja Turtle, Donatello, was just nine years old when he survived the horrific ordeal in the Murray River at Moama in NSW, on March 2, 2017.
His mother, a 28-year-old Deniliquin woman who can't be named for legal reasons, is on trial for the murder of her youngest child and the attempted murder of her eldest.
The woman is today in Wagga Wagga court on the third day of her week-long trial after earlier pleading not guilty to both charges by way of mental illness.
In a video played in court this morning, the surviving child spoke to detectives from his hospital bed just hours after the incident, and said his mother had lured the brothers to the river on the false pretence of fishing.
Once the boys were in the water, their mother instructed the eldest boy to "put your head under", he said.
"I just said 'no' … and then she dunked my head under the water. (I was) scared.
"My whole body (was under the water). My face was down."
The boy said his mother "had her arm on my throat" and that he could feel the sand at the bottom of the river.
"Then I started hitting her so she would let go of me but she didn't," he said.
"I was starting to suffocate as she was hopping on me.
"(Eventually she released me) and then she grabbed my brother and did the same thing (to him)."
The court heard the nine-year-old boy told police that when he made it to the bank he looked back at the river and saw his mother "shaking my brother" in the water. The boy never saw his little brother again.
In her police interview played in court yesterday, the woman described the horrific moment she forced the boys into a river, and held them under water.
On Tuesday, Justice Richard Button noted the woman had been crying, "bizarrely plaiting her hair" and "rocking back and forth" throughout the proceedings and so excused her from the court while her police interviews were played.
In the video, the accused told detectives the day after the tragedy, that she had "blacked out and drowned her babies" because one of them "turned evil".
The woman told police she first turned to her eldest son and "held his head under" the water.
"It was horrible," she said during the interview.
"He kept staying alive for a little bit. I had to sit on top of him. I couldn't hold him down because he was so strong."
In the video, the woman told detectives that at one stage she heard one of her sons scream: "Just stop, Mummy."
The NSW Supreme Court heard the boy struggled for air before he eventually broke free.
"I didn't want to keep doing it," the accused said during her police interview.
"It was so f***in' wrong."
She then turned her sights to the younger boy, the court heard. In the video, she wailed as she told detectives she had one hand on her five-year-old son's head and the other on his chest, while "holding him down".
She said she could feel the little boy struggling, but didn't relinquish her hold on him until he stopped, the court heard.
"I pushed him and let him float away so people would find him," she said.
The child's lifeless body was found in the river two days later following an extensive search by authorities.
In a statement tendered to court and viewed by news.com.au, the woman said she "caused the death of (her) child by drowning him" and that it "was (her) intention to kill" both of the boys when she took them into the river.
Earlier, the court heard that the woman was on supervised parole after having been released from prison, on aggravated break and enter offences, one month prior to the incident.
In his opening address, Crown Prosecutor Max Pincott said on the morning of the killing, the woman appeared angry and had called her mother from the Victorian town of Goornong and told her: "You won't see us anymore."
A few hours later, the accused took her sons to the riverbank and forced them underwater, the judge-alone trial heard.
A witness who heard screams ran to the river and saw the older boy being viciously attacked by a dog. He carried him away and the boy said words to the effect of: "I think I'm the only survivor," the rescuer said in a statement. In a statement, one witness said the surviving boy was "screaming and naked (and) covered in blood".
In his police interview video played in court
"I started yelling out to my mum," the boy said in the video.
"I said 'someone please help'.
"I tried to put my hands on the dog's face so he wouldn't do it but he was too strong."
Another man saw the woman floating on her back in the river soon after. On Tuesday, the court heard the accused was trying to kill herself.
The nine-year-old was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries and spent the next three days on a ventilator with aspiration pneumonia from the attempted drowning.
Later that night, local resort owner Michael Falzon saw the woman walking into his work premises soaking wet, bleeding and crying, at about 9pm.
Mr Pincott said the witness observed that the woman's pants were ripped below her knee and so asked if she was all right.
"She answered: 'I drowned my babies,'" Mr Pincott said.
"When asked what she meant, she replied: 'I had to drown my babies.'"
In a statement, Mr Falzon said the accused told him: "I just want a bullet, I should be dead."
Mr Falzon then took the woman to the police station upon her request.
"He observed on the way to the police station the accused was crying and saying, 'My babies my babies,'" Mr Pincott told the judge.
The court heard that the woman told police: "I killed my kids … I didn't want to do it. I am such a motherf***er."
Mr Pincott said that when police asked where her kids were, she became upset and screamed: "I f***ing drowned them."
The court heard she then referenced a former partner she hadn't had contact with since 2016.
"F**k that c**t needs to be shot," she said to officers, the court heard.
Defence barrister Eric Wilson SC said his client believed she was saving her children by killing them.
"She was keeping them safe, your honour," he said.
The court heard she was delusional and believed she was "going to be raped, tortured … and had to prevent her children from witnessing that … or they would be killed themselves".
"She was suffering from a seriously disturbed mental state," Mr Wilson said.
"She thought she was saving them from being killed (in a worse way).
"She believes that she actually kept them safe."
The judge said it was "thoroughly bizarre to think these acts were the solution to the problem".
"One would know that being drowned is surely not (a pleasant death)," Mr Button said.
"It's not as if the boys were given sleeping pills and simply drifted off to sleep.
"Being drowned would be a terrible way to die."
Crown witness Dr Jonathon Adams, a forensic psychiatrist who assessed the accused murderer, told the court she appeared to have a borderline personality disorder and was likely suffering delusional beliefs at the time of the alleged offence.
"I think she has borderline personality disorder, a longstanding substance abuse disorder and a likely major depressive disorder," Dr Adams said.
"It appeared to me her mental state was deteriorating in the four weeks prior to the alleged offence."
The court heard that the woman had a history of drug abuse but that toxicology reports showed she didn't have any traces of illicit substances in her system at the time of her arrest.
Dr Adams said his patient had told him she used the drug ice once — to celebrate her birthday — in the four weeks between her release from jail and drowning her children.
She had also not been taking her prescribed antipsychotic medication since being released from prison in February, the judge was told. In the days leading up to the alleged murder and attempted murder, the woman was seen screaming to herself: "You stupid sl*t", "stupid b**ch" and "I'm going to kill him". She was also caught shoplifting on two occasions during that time. The woman's mother, who was caring for the boys, had taken an apprehended violence order (AVO) out on her daughter which banned her from coming near within 24 hours of consuming illicit drugs or alcohol.
The court heard that the accused had threatened "to drive with her and the boys into a tree" during a conversation with her mother in 2015. The incident was reported to police at the time.
The court heard the woman was subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse as a child and as an adult, and that she had a family history of schizophrenia.
Dr Adams said she had been "tormented" by voices in her head since the age of seven. In a report, he noted she had been self-harming since she was nine, first overdosed at age 13 and attempted suicide dozens of times. He said years of chronic substance abuse had worsened her condition and that she had most recently tried to starve herself behind bars.
The trial continues.