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Plea Accepted in Killings of Husband, Children

March 14, 1989

NEW CITY, N.Y. (AP) _ A county judge accepted an insanity plea Monday from a woman who killed her husband with a knife to the heart, drowned her two young sons in a Jacuzzi and then tried to kill herself.

Both prosecution and defense had urged that the plea be accepted. Expert testimony at the non-jury trial indicated that Lillian Rotella, 31, was mentally ill at the time of the killings Dec. 23, and was convinced there was a conspiracy designed to harm her family.

″She had to protect Eddie and the boys by sending them to heaven and by ending their earthly life,″ Mrs. Rotella’s lawyer, William Frank, told Rockland County Court Judge William Kelly in explaining why his client had killed her husband Edward, 31, and sons Edward Thomas, 7, and Kyle, 4.

Kelly accepted the formal plea of not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.

Mrs. Rotella wept frequently throughout the proceeding as did her mother, Marian Moore.

The Rotellas, who had been high school sweethearts, ran a contracting business for which Mrs. Rotella kept the books. According to the testimony, she began to fear a conspiracy of bankers, lawyers and even doctors against her family.

She distrusted doctors who tended to her older son, who suffered from a respiratory ailment, and feared something was going to happen to her husband. The tension and stress began to grow when she began taking courses at Columbia University, according to testimony.

On the night before the killings, psychiatric experts said, Mrs. Rotella had a dream in which she saw the Blessed Virgin, after which she felt ″extraordinary relief and peace.″

Frank said she felt she had to ″bring her husband and children and herself to Heaven. If she didn’t, her husband and children would be damaged.″

According to District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz, she killed her husband by stabbing him once in the heart. She then went to her mother’s house and insisted that the boys, who had spent the night there, be awakened and brought to their home in nearby Stony Point to have breakfast.

Mrs. Rotella then drowned the boys in a Jacuzzi and placed them on the bed with their father.

Mrs. Moore, worried about her daughter, found her covered in blood. She was bleeding from four stab wounds to the neck and six to the abdomen.

″She told her mother she was sorry, but that she had to do it,″ Gribetz said.

In accepting her plea, Kelly ordered that she be sent to a mental institution where she must remain until psychiatrists find her not to be a danger to herself or others.

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