Trial recalls 2014 horror in Blackstone

Mother faces murder charges in deaths of two infants

The murder trial of Erika Murray is a gut-turning tragedy that defines callousness.

Murray is facing charges of murdering two infants discovered in her Blackstone home five years ago. A third dead baby was also found in the trash-strewn house, which was razed soon after.

Scott Croteau, a reporter for MassLive, wrote a comprehensive overview of the case ahead of the trial’s start in Worcester Superior Court on Tuesday.

Testimony in the jury-waived trial has alleged that Murray invented a story for her older children – ages 10 and 13 – that she was babysitting a three-year-old girl and an infant girl, but they were actually her own. Prosecutors claim the younger children, who were covered in feces when authorities arrived, had been born in the home and never left it until the day in August 2014 that state authorities took custody of them.

Betsy Brown, a neighbor, testified that earlier that day the 10-year-old asked for her help to make a baby stop crying. She went to Murray’s home and saw enough to call the police, and bring in some much-needed intervention.

When police showed up and searched the home for birth records of the two younger children, they discovered the “skeletal remains of two babies, both diapered and fully clothed, in bedroom closets,” reported the Telegram & Gazette. Another baby with an umbilical cord and placenta attached was also found stuffed in a backpack.

More chilling details about the situation and Murray’s mindset came to light in the testimony of Catherine Francy, a Department of Children and Families investigator who interviewed Murray after the agency took custody of her living children.

Murray called her 3-year-old “it” several times, Francy said. Another DCF social worker said Murray seemed unbothered by the news that the state would take custody of her four children. Ramon Rivera, Murray’s live-in boyfriend, is separately facing child abuse charges. Francy said that while Murray appeared “very calm,” her boyfriend was “visibly upset” and sobbing during the interview.

Murray’s lawyer, Keith Halpern, asserted in his opening statement that she is suffering from mental illness, and she did not do anything wrong or criminal “that caused the death of any child.” He also raised the possibility that the dead babies had never lived, but had instead been stillborn.

Whether criminal or not, the case shows the horrors that can accumulate through neglect, and the squalor in which a mother and father and four children can exist in our modern society. Murray told Gregory Gilmore, the acting chief of the Blackstone police, that she could probably not afford to raise her two youngest daughters. The baby was severely malnourished when police arrived and the home was covered in garbage and infested with vermin. Authorities also found a dead dog there.

One other aspect of the case is that the “house of horrors” was discovered only four months after the body of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver had been found along a highway in Sterling. The disappearance of Jeremiah triggered scrutiny of the Department of Children and Families along with increased funding for the child welfare agency that had failed in its task to keep him safe. Child welfare was an especially charged political issue at the time because of Jeremiah’s case, which led to the departure of DCF’s chief. The crime scene in Blackstone also came to light during the thick of the gubernatorial election, two weeks before the primary.

It’s hardly a stretch to think both those tragedies have had lasting impact on Gov. Charlie Baker, who won his first term that year and has prioritized funding of DCF in the state budget. That agency, which is facing new controversy over its foster parent program, has seen its annual budget rise by $180 million and its ranks swell with 600 new staff since Baker took office.




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