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Charges reduced for woman who drove kids into ocean off Florida

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A pregnant woman who drove a minivan with her three children into the ocean off a Florida beach no longer faces charges that she had planned to kill them, court papers filed on Tuesday show.

The reduced charges of attempted second degree murder require prosecutors to show Ebony Wilkerson, 32, acted with a depraved state of mind, but no plan.

She was originally charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder which carry a presumption of a thought-out plan to kill her children aged 3, 9 and 10, who survived the incident off Daytona Beach, Florida last month.

Wilkerson remains charged with three additional counts of child abuse. If convicted, she could still face a life prison sentence.

Her lawyer, public defender Jim Purdy, told a judge that Wilkerson was transferred from the jail to a hospital for mental health treatment and prenatal care after punching herself in the stomach days after her arrest, and that she still needs mental health care.

A tourist's video on March 4 showed lifeguards and bystanders rushing to help rescue Wilkerson and her children as their van bobbed in the Atlantic Ocean off Daytona Beach.

The oldest child, a girl, fought with her mother over control of the steering wheel to try to turn the minivan away from the water, a Volusia County Sheriff's report said.

The girl and the 9-year-old told investigators their mother was trying to kill them, according to the report.

Wilkerson, her father and the two older children told authorities that she brought her children to Florida a few days before the incident to get away from an abusive marriage.

The day before the incident, Wilkerson, at her sister's request, was evaluated by police, who determined that she did not qualify for involuntary mental health commitment.

The sister took her to the hospital, but Wilkerson left against the advice of medical personnel, according to the arrest affidavit. The children told investigators she began acting "crazy" when they arrived in Florida.

The 10-year-old girl told investigators that her mother took them to the beach "so we could die," the sheriff's report said.

Wilkerson locked the doors of her 2012 Honda Odyssey, closed the windows and told the children to close their eyes and go to sleep, the children told investigators.

Wilkerson ignored her children's pleas and told them they were going to a "safer place."

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Richard Chang)

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