Coney Island deaths: mother charged with drowning three children at New York beach

Erin Merdy has been charged with first and second degree murder

A mother accused of drowning her three children at popular tourist beach has appeared in court.

Erin Mendy, 30, has been charged with first and second-degree murder in the deaths of her children, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said.

Zachary Merdy, seven, Liliana Stephens-Merdy, four, and Oliver Bondarev, three, all died after an incident at Coney Island Beach in New York.

Here is all you need to know:

Merdy appears in court charged with murder

Merdy was arraigned by video link from the hospital where she was sent for a psychiatric examination.

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Officers searched the Coney Island shoreline early on Monday after a relative called emergency services.

According to the criminal complaint, Merdy had told the relative “that she had hurt her children and that they are gone”.

Merdy found wet and barefoot by police

Police found Merdy on the pier, wet and barefoot. The children were later found unresponsive at the water’s edge. They were pronounced dead in hospital.

The city medical examiner’s office ruled their deaths as homicide by drowning.

Evidence against Merdy includes video that shows her walking toward the ocean with the children just before 1am on Monday (12 September), according to the complaint.

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 12: Police tape closes a stretch of beach at Coney Island which is now a crime scene after a mother is suspected of drowning her children in the ocean on September 12, 2022 in New York City. Three children were found unconscious on the beach near the Coney Island boardwalk early Monday morning. Detectives were trying to question the mother at the local police precinct house after she was picked up two miles down the boardwalk. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

What is first degree and second degree murder?

Cornell Law School defines first degree murder as “intentional killing of another person by someone who has acted willfully, deliberately, or with planning”.

The definition continues: “A premeditated intent to kill requires that the defendant had intent to kill and some willful deliberation (the defendant spent some time to reflect, deliberate, reason, or weigh their decision) to kill, rather than killing on a sudden impulse.

“Prior planning and deliberation are often closely intertwined. Courts focus on the “pre” in premeditation, and generally look for evidence that the defendant deliberated and subsequently formed the intent to kill prior to the act of killing.

“This is justified because the defendant must have thought about the murder for a period of time and did not change their mind.

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“There are several factors indicating premeditation and deliberation.

“These include: lack of provocation from the victim, actions and words of the defendant before and after the killing, any threats from the defendant before and/or during the killing, whether the victim and the defendant had a poor history, whether there was an additional lethal attack after the victim was already helpless, evidence of brutality, and the nature and number of wounds.

“However, many jurisdictions concede that there is no bright, arbitrary line when premeditation begins and ends.”

Second degree murder is defined as “typically murder with malicious intent but not premeditated“.

Cornell Law School explains: “The mens rea of the defendant is intent to kill, intent to inflict serious bodily harm, or act with an abandoned heart (e.g., reckless conduct lacking concern for human life or having a high risk of death).

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“The punishment for second-degree murder is less severe than that for first-degree murder.

“Capital punishment is not available for a second-degree murder conviction.

“Lack of mens rea can be a defense to reduce murder to manslaughter.”