A Charleston-area mother's calm demeanor transformed to one of dismay Saturday when a judge set bail at $1.2 million on charges that she intentionally drove her van into the ocean at Daytona Beach in an attempt to kill her three children.
Ebony Wilkerson, 32, of North Charleston, appeared in a Volusia County (Fla.)court to face three counts of first-degree attempted murder and three counts of child abuse.
In video captured by Orlando's ABC affiliate WFTV, Wilkerson appeared to walk slowly as she entered the hearing, her wide eyes darting throughout the courtroom.
An attorney for the state argued that Wilkerson, who is nearly seven months pregnant, was an apparent flight risk given her South Carolina ties. He called the woman a danger to the community, herself and her unborn child.
A judge initially denied Wilkerson bail on each charge. But she later changed her mind when Nora Hall, an assistant public defender, pleaded on Wilkerson's behalf for a reasonable bail.
The judge responded by granting a $1.2 million bail - $300,000 for each attempted murder charge, and $100,000 for each remaining charge.
"That's tantamount to no bond. She has family here. Her father and her sister live here," Hall argued, countering the notion that Wilkerson would flee if released from jail.
The judge stood firm on the high bail, saying Wilkerson could seek to have the amount reviewed at a later date if she wanted.
Wilkerson turned toward her attorney at the hearing's conclusion with a look of shock and apparent frustration on her face. She repeatedly uttered "that doesn't make sense," while authorities escorted her out of the courtroom.
Authorities have accused Wilkerson of intentionally driving into the ocean Tuesday at Daytona Beach with her three children - ages 3, 9 and 10 - strapped in the van.
Wilkerson had been undergoing a mental evaluation since the incident, according to sheriff's officials. Upon her release Friday, authorities charged Wilkerson and detained her at a Volusia County jail.
"She definitely tried to kill her children," Volusia County Sheriff Ben Johnson said this week, though he added the woman had denied the accusation.
"She said she was trying to drive out of the water," he said.
Witness statements made to investigators indicated that Wilkerson drove into the ocean with purpose. She tried to ward off those who tried to rescue the children, according to an incident report.
The children, who did not suffer any serious injuries, were hospitalized following the incident. They were later released into the state's protective custody, according to Florida's Department of Children and Families officials.
While being evaluated at a Halifax hospital, Wilkerson told an investigator she had endured 14 years of agony with her husband, affidavits released by the Sheriff's Office stated.
Her husband, 31-year-old Lutful Ronjon, attacked her on March 1 while they stayed at a hotel in Myrtle Beach, Wilkerson reported to North Charleston police two days before arriving at Daytona Beach.
Her husband has not been charged in that incident. Ronjon could not be reached for comment this week.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.
This booking photo released by the Volusia (Fla.) County Division of Corrections shows Ebony Wilkerson. Wilkerson, accused of driving a minivan carrying her three young children into the ocean surf off Florida, was charged Friday, March 7, 2014, with attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse, though she has denied trying to harm anyone, authorities said. (AP Photo/Volusia (Fla.) County Corrections)×