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Woman who threw six children in bayou gets probation

HOUSTON -- A woman who was put on probation for tossing six of her seven children into a bayou, drowning two of them, will attempt to regain custody of her surviving children, her attorney said.

Visiting Judge Jimmy James sentenced Juana Leija, 30, to 10 years of deferred adjudication Thursday after Leija pleaded no contest to two counts of murder in the death of her 6-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

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Deferred adjudication is a form of probation used when there is no judgment of guilt or innocence, said Dick DeGuerin, Leija's attorney. She will have no criminal record if she completes 10 years of probation.

James, as part of a deal worked out with DeGuerin, then dismissed four charges of attempted murder against her.

The judge said he was not satisfied with the arrangement but placed much of the blame for Leija's problems on her husband, Jose Luis Leija, 35.

Jose Leija has been accused in court proceedings of mistreating his wife and children. James referred to his conduct as an 'extremely pitiful situation.'

'The father is more culpable than the mother,' the judge said.

DeGuerin said Leija, who has filed for divorce from her husband and is seeking permanent custody of her children, was mentally incompetent at the time of the April 18, 1986, incident.

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'At the time it happened, she thought what she was doing was right. This way, she'll have an opportunity to show all of the evidence in family court in the fight for her children,' DeGuerin said.

Leija led her children to the banks of Buffalo Bayou and began tossing them into the water. Her daughter, Eloisa, 11, escaped and ran to a nearby police station for help.

Juan Dimas Leija, 6, and Juana Leija, 5, drowned in the bayou.

Passersby pulled the four others from the water.

Police said Leija had been worn down by a life of poverty and her deteriorating marriage. They said Leija told them she threw the children in the water because she didn't want them living in this world.

Leija now lives in a home operated by the Harris County mental health department, DeGuerin said. He said the agency will file monthly reports on her behavior until it determines she is to again able live on her own.

Two of her children now live at county children's centers, another is in a home for mentally retarded children and two others are living with their maternal grandparents.

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