Police: Woman may have fed poison to her own children

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

DE QUEEN, Ark. -- A woman accused of murdering her three children was distraught over the breakup of her marriage and may have fed the youngsters pesticide before smothering them, police said Monday.

Eleazar Paula Mendez, 43, pleaded innocent to three counts of murder and was jailed without bail and placed under a suicide watch. The judge also ordered a psychological evaluation.

Mendez, 43, told investigators she tried to kill herself on Friday by swallowing ant poison, prosecutor Tom Cooper said. She said the children saw her take the pesticide and asked her to kill them, too, he said.

"I blessed them and then I suffocated them," Mendez told investigators, according to Cooper.

Cooper said he believes Mendez poisoned the children before suffocating them, but he questioned other parts of her account. The children's bodies were sent to the state crime lab for autopsies.

Police found 7-year-old Elvis and 5-year-old twins Samantha and Samuel side-by-side on a bed in their home Saturday after a call from the children's worried father, Arturo Morales, 37, who lives in New York.

Mendez had left a note in Spanish saying she could not go on without her husband, the prosecutor said.

Elsewhere in the house, authorities discovered four cups on a table near a container of ant poison.

"It looked like they had been drinking some hot chocolate," Police chief Richard McKinley said. "We also found nearby some poisoning. The poisoning was called Tempo. It was an insecticide poisoning. We also found, right by that, a mixing glass."

He said the mixing glass and the cups were also sent to a lab for tests.

Mendez had moved to the small Arkansas town about a year ago to give the children a safer environment, but her husband could not make a living and returned to New York to work.

He was supposed to visit the family in Arkansas during the Christmas holiday, but he did not show up, so Mendez took the children to New York, McKinley said. During the visit, Morales asked for a divorce, he said.

Morales met with police Monday after traveling to Arkansas. "He's having a hard time making sense of everything," McKinley said.

Mendez, who speaks limited English, listened to an interpreter through headphones during Monday's hearing. She replied "Si" when asked if she understood the court's procedures.

Prosecutors have the option of pursuing the death penalty.

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