Judge Orders Mental Evaluation of De Queen Woman

JANUARY 30, 2006 - Posted at 4:01 p.m. CST

DE QUEEN, AR - A prosecutor says a woman accused of smothering her three children in De Queen was distraught over an impending divorce.

Eleazar Paula Mendez, 43, told investigators that she attempted suicide Friday by ingesting ant poison and alleged to officers that the children, who saw her take the pesticide, asked that she kill them, too.

Prosecutor Tom Cooper says he believes Mendez poisoned the children before suffocating them but questions other portions of her account.  The bodies were sent to the state Crime Laboratory in Little Rock for autopsies.

Prosecutors say Mendez told officers she blessed the children before suffocating seven-year-old Elvis and five-year-old twins Samantha and Samuel.  She called her estranged husband in New York to tell him about the killings and the husband called authorities.  The bodies were found Saturday.

Mendez pleaded innocent this morning to three counts of capital murder.  Lawyers say a mental evaluation by the judge will put the case on hold for six to nine months.

At the arraignment, Mendez, who speaks limited English, listened to the hearing via an interpreter.

She replied "Si" when the interpreter asked whether she could hear through a set of headphones and when the judge asked if she understood the court's procedures.

Prosecutors say Cooper ingested ant poison before being taken to a hospital.  She's now in jail, being held without bond.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)