California woman says she drowned children to protect them

AP General

FILE – In this April 14, 2021, file photo, Liliana Carrillo, right, appears with her representative, Deputy Public Defender Brandon Mata, during her arraignment in Kern County Superior Court in Bakersfield, Calif. The California woman suspected of killing her three children in the midst of a bitter custody battle said Thursday, April 15 that she drowned them to keep them away from their father, a television station reported. In a jailhouse interview, Carrillo told KGET-TV that she wanted to “protect” them from abuse, the station reported. (Alex Horvath/The Bakersfield Californian via AP, File)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — A California woman suspected of killing her three children in the midst of a bitter custody battle said Thursday that she drowned them to keep them away from their father, a television station reported.

In a jailhouse interview, Liliana Carrillo, 30, told KGET-TVthat she wanted to “protect” them from abuse, the station reported.

“I drowned them,” she said in the interview at the Lerdo Pre-Trial Facility in Kern County.

“I did it as softly, I don’t know how to explain it, but I hugged them and I kissed them and I was apologizing the whole time,” she said. “I loved my kids.”

The children’s father, Erik Denton, contended in court papers filed earlier this year that Carrillo was increasingly delusional and that the children weren’t safe with her. Denton did not immediately respond to a Facebook message seeking comment on Friday morning on the abuse claims.

During an outing last February at a park, the couple’s oldest daughter fell and landed on her groin area and later said it hurt, according to court documents filed in the custody case. Carrillo believed the pain was from Denton molesting her, a claim he denied, the documents said.

He said she was checked by a doctor who found no evidence of abuse, but Carrillo contended that the examination wasn’t thorough enough, the court documents said.

Carrillo told the TV station that she’d promised her children when they were born that she would protect them and did not want them to be further abused.

“I wish my kids were alive, yes,” she said. “Do I wish that I didn’t have to do that? Yes. But I prefer them not being tortured and abused on a regular basis for for the rest of their lives.”

She described herself as a “social justice warrior” who used to travel California advocating against human trafficking. She said she met the children’s father when she was his Uber driver and they began talking during a long drive.

Carrillo, who wore a brown jail jumpsuit, had her arms shackled to her waist. There was a cast or bandage on her left arm. She cried several times during the nearly half-hour interview in which she said she did not have an attorney.

“I know that I’m going to be in jail for the rest of my life. It’s something I’ve come to terms with,” she said.

Carrillo’s children — 3-year-old Joanna Denton Carrillo, her 2-year-old brother, Terry, and 6-month-old sister, Sierra — were found dead Saturday by their maternal grandmother in her apartment in the Reseda neighborhood of Los Angeles. She was arrested later that day in Tulare County, nearly 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of the scene.

In the interview, Carrillo said she had driven north intending to drive off a cliff and kill herself but the car became stuck in a ditch and she instead took the vehicle of some people who had stopped to help her.

However, she pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in a Kern County courtroom to four felony counts of carjacking, attempted carjacking and auto theft.

Carrillo hasn’t been charged with the deaths of her children in Los Angeles County pending further investigation.

Police haven’t disclosed a motive for the killings. But court filings showed there was a bitter custody dispute between Carrillo and the children’s father.

The children had been staying with Carrillo.

Fearful for their safety, Denton petitioned a court for custody March 1, alleging that Carrillo was delusional and had taken the kids and refused to tell him where they were. Carrillo, in turn, filed a restraining order against him and claimed Denton was an alcoholic who may have sexually abused their eldest child.

Denton’s court filings tell of Carrillo’s post-partum depression following the birth of their middle child. She began therapy but quit. She self-medicated with marijuana, he claimed.

In texts and social media posts, she said things like “I wish I never had kids” and threatened to kill herself.

Carrillo also believed she was “solely responsible” for the coronavirus pandemic, Denton wrote, and she thought that the small California city of Porterville — where the family had lived until the end of February — was home to a “giant sex trafficking ring.”

In her interview, Carrillo said she had dealt with depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress syndrome her entire life and had sought out a therapist for post-partum depression but contended that it was Denton who posed a threat to the children.

Carrillo alleged that her daughter and a son had shown signs of abuse and that she had tried but failed to obtain help through social workers and law enforcement.

“They were just going to hand them off to the dad,” she said.

Carrillo sought a temporary restraining order in Los Angeles County. Through the courts, Denton and Carrillo agreed to swap Denton’s days to see the children — a few hours every other Sunday.

Last Sunday was supposed to be just his second visit with the kids under the new schedule.

Carrillo said she expects to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Asked what her final message to her children, she replied: “I love you, and I’m sorry.”

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