SALEM — A Gloucester native charged with slashing the throats of her two young children, dousing them with lighter fluid and then setting their Salem Heights apartment ablaze last week will remain held without bail, a Salem District Court judge ordered yesterday.
Tanicia Goodwin, 25, now of Salem, has been sent to Worcester State Hospital, a mental health facility, for evaluation, but will remain in custody, either there or at MCI-Framingham, pending trial. Judge Michael Lauranzano agreed with prosecutors that she poses a danger both to her children — Jamaal, 8, and Erica, 3 — and the public.
Both children remain at Children's Hospital Boston. The Department of Children and Families has taken legal custody of the children, but family members are petitioning the court to allow them physical custody of Jamaal and Erica when they get out of the hospital, cousin Deborah Cox said.
"We don't want them going into the system," she told reporters.
Goodwin has been barred by the judge from contacting either child while the case, which includes charges of attempted murder and arson, is pending.
During the hearing, new details about Goodwin's background — including prior allegations of abuse that were investigated by the Department of Children and Families — emerged, as did hints of a likely mental health defense.
Despite a strong support network — including a large extended family, a DCF caseworker and a parent aide who were all available to help — Goodwin did not reach out to any of them, prosecutor Melissa Woodard said. Instead, she acted out in an "extremely brutal and painful way. ...
"She put the lives of her children and hundreds of others at risk," Woodard said.
But defense lawyer Steven Van Dyke said Goodwin's actions were "completely outside the scope of normal human interactions and raised serious questions about the inner workings of her mind."
What happened on the night of March 18 was so far removed from anything Goodwin had done in the past, the defense argued, that it was an aberration.
The Department of Children and Families had assigned a caseworker to the family in 2011, after Jamaal, now a first-grader at Salem's Witchcraft Heights Elementary, showed up with a large bump on his head and told his teacher his mother "spanked" him on the head. He told a DCF investigator that his mother had slammed his head on the floor and that on a weekly basis she had beaten him with a belt.
A couple of times, she struck the boy with a stick and a broom, the boy confided in an investigator, who noted that Jamaal was "afraid of his mom."
Last September, after police received a report of Goodwin striking her 3-year-old daughter, an investigator asked Jamaal if his mother was still hitting him, Woodard told the judge.
"What should I say if Mommy is sitting on the couch?" the boy allegedly replied.
In January, DCF was alerted again when Jamaal showed up at school with a blood spot on his eye, Woodard said. He initially told his teacher he had fallen on a toy.
When confronted and asked if she was still hitting the boy, Goodwin allegedly responded by saying, "How do you inflict fear in a man?"
And shortly before the incidents last week, Wayne Cox, Goodwin's cousin, who had previously had custody of Jamaal, had contacted the Department of Children and Families again.
While Woodard intended to rely on a stack of police and DCF investigation reports, Van Dyke subpoenaed police investigators on the case — something Woodard suggested was more about "making a record for the motion to suppress" than about determining whether Goodwin was dangerous.
Six officers — lead investigator Sgt. James Page; Capt. Thomas Griffin; Patrolmen William Jennings, Dana Mazola and Rafael Gonzales; and state police Trooper Anthony Schena — faced questions from Van Dyke about Goodwin's demeanor and appearance that night.
Page and others testified that Goodwin repeatedly told them that she had to "protect my children," and apologized, sometimes as if she were speaking to them, saying things like, "Sorry, babies."
Jennings said that when he told her that the children were alive and expected to recover, Goodwin didn't believe him.
"No way my son could have survived that," she told him.
Goodwin held her hands to her face throughout the hearing yesterday, appearing at several points to be weeping.
Worried family members attended the hearing. Deborah Cox, Goodwin's cousin, said it was "very painful" when Goodwin didn't look at them as she was brought into the courtroom but blamed mental instability for the slight.
"We're trusting that the judicial system will do right by her," said Cox, who hopes Goodwin will receive mental health treatment.
A probable cause hearing was set for next month, but Woodard told the judge she is preparing to present the case to a grand jury for indictment, which would move the case to Superior Court.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.