"I drowned them. I did it as softly ... I don't know how to explain it," Lilliana Carrillo said Thursday in a disturbing jailhouse interview with KGET-TV. "I hugged them. I kissed them. I was apologizing the whole time. I loved my kids."
Carrillo told the Bakersfield television station that she killed the children, ages 6 months, 2 and 3 years old, to protect them from their father, who she claimed was involved in human trafficking.
She said she wished her children were still alive, adding, however: "I prefer them not being tortured and abused on a regular basis for the rest of their lives.''
Carrillo identified the children as Joanna Maria, 3; Terry Joseph, 2; and Sierra Sequoia, 6 months.
"I love you and I'm sorry,'' was the last thing she said to her son and daughters, according to Carrillo.
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Erik Denton, Carrillo's ex-boyfriend and the father of the children, had petitioned the 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.
As the case wound through family courts in Tulare and Los Angeles counties, the parents traded accusations in dozens of pages of documents. Police were called, social workers were consulted, alarming text messages and Facebook posts were saved as legal exhibits.
Last week, a Los Angeles judge agreed to move the case to Tulare County, where a hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.
It would be too late.
The victims' grandmother found their bodies about 9:30 a.m. Saturday in an apartment in the 8000 block of Reseda Boulevard, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. Carrillo was nowhere to be found.
Identified as the suspected killer, she was arrested hours later in Tulare County, nearly 200 miles north of the scene.
Expert criminal defense attorney Doug Ridley says Denton's claims in custody hearings that Carrillo suffered from post-partum depression, along with other mental health issues, is a likely strategy her defense attorney will use to prove she's mentally unfit to stand trial.
"It would really surprise me if she ended up a psych ward rather than standing trial and going to prison for the rest of her life in a case like this," Ridley said. "It's so horrific and we don't even know all the details yet. We have one report that says that the children were stabbed. And then we have another report that says they were drowned, and the official report is that they're still trying to determine cause of death."
Ridley added that Carrillo's jailhouse murder confession will most likely weaken any legal motion proving she's not fit to stand trial.
"She's making coherent sentences, so I believe that that video is going to be proof that she is competent, but then all of the other mental health considerations go into a defense, whether that is post-partum, whether that's battered woman syndrome, or some other mental defense," he said.
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.
Psychiatrist Ananya Sreepathi says given Carrillo claims that she killed her children to protect them from their father, he would evaluate her for the most extreme case of post-partum depression along with any mental health issues.
"Often times in post-partum psychosis, women can have delusions about the baby or hallucinations, like hearing voices telling them to do certain things to harm the baby," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.