The attorney representing Tenia Campbell, the Medford woman who is accused of having suffocated her twin 2-year old daughters late last month, said that he will focus on his client’s mental health in her defense.
Patchogue attorney John Halverson spoke following Ms. Campbell’s arraignment on first degree Murder charges in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverside on Wednesday morning, saying that the “horrific tragedy” seemed to clearly be driven by the mental disorders her family has said she suffers from.
“I think the act speaks for itself,” Mr. Halverson said. “Any mother alleged to have harmed her children is not in the right state of mind.”
Ms. Campbell, 24, did not speak in court on Wednesday as Mr. Halverson entered a not guilty plea for her to Criminal Court Judge Richard Ambro. Judge Ambro ordered her held without bail and kept on suicide watch. He also ordered medical and psychiatric assessments requested by Mr. Halverson.
Ms. Campbell is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of second-degree murder and faces up to life in prison without the possibility of parole, if convicted on the most serious charges.
Several members of Ms. Campbell’s family were in the courtroom on Wednesday, but not her mother, Vanessa McQueen, with whom Ms. Campbell spoke on the phone while she drove to Montauk on the day her children were killed. She told her mother at the time that she had killed the children and was planning on killing herself but later admitted she couldn’t kill herself and was “going to jail.”
A woman who identified herself as Cindy Campbell, and said she was Ms. Campbell’s aunt, spoke briefly outside the courtroom following the arraignment.
“She’s a beautiful person—she doesn’t deserve this,” Ms. Campbell said. “God allowed what happened to happen for a reason. And all those negative comments that people are making…she’s a good person.”
Assistant District Attorney Kerriann Kelly, the head of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office homicide bureau, said that investigators believe that Ms. Campbell suffocated her two toddlers. She then drove to Montauk with their bodies strapped into the car seats in the back of her mother’s minivan, where she was tracked down by East Hampton Town Police officers near the entrance to Montauk County Park on June 27.
“The medical examiner has determined that they were killed with homicidal violence, consistent with manual asphyxia … whether that’s by hand, by pillow or some other manner,” Ms. Kelly said in the Arthur M. Cromarty court building in Riverside. “I can only tell you that the defendant herself indicated that she did it with her own hands.”
Ms. Kelly said that Ms. Campbell admitted killing her children to police officers, but could not yet say where she is believed to have been when she killed them. She had told her mother during a phone conversation hours before she was found in Montauk that the kids were already dead.
Ms. Kelly said she believes the facts of the case at this point do not point to someone in a state of mind consistent with an insanity defense.
“I think the facts bear out a woman who knew exactly what she was doing and she did it intentionally and her statements certainly support that,” Ms. Kelly said.