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.

ANDY METZGER

 

BEACON HILL

A pro-union bill receives big bipartisan support in the House, prompting Rep. Peter Capano of Lynn to say the “labor movement is on the rise, and we are here today to help them do that.” (CommonWealth)

Former House speaker Sal DiMasi, convicted of public corruption charges in 2011, is appealing a ruling from Secretary of State William Galvin barring him from registering as a lobbyist until 10 years after his conviction. In a made-in-Massachusetts moment, DiMasi appears to be making his argument in part on the fact that his two immediate predecessors, Tom Finneran and Charlie Flaherty, both got to register as lobbyists after their federal convictions. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Saugus tells a business along Route 1 that its brand new mural depicting the history of the roadway has to go because it violates a city ordinance. (Daily Item)

Center Court Partners unveils a vision of what it would like to build in the area between the former Boston Globe headquarters and the JFK/UMass Station on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. (Dorchester Reporter)

The federal government’s criminal prosecution against Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia II is now in the hands of a Massachusetts District Court judge who will likely preside over the mayor’s trial. A new date for a pretrial conference before a district judge has been set for June 25. Correia is facing 13 federal counts of wire and tax fraud. (Herald News)

Scituate town officials say they plan to count by hand all ballots cast in last month’s vote on funding for a $12.2 million senior center in order to address concerns about the number of ballots counted as blank in what might have been a “scanner error.” (Patriot Ledger)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A growing number of states and cities are letting their residents identify as neither male or female, but nonbinary. (Governing)

Tens of thousands of Massachusetts residents are feeling adverse effects of President Trump’s hardline immigration policies, according to a new report from The Boston Foundation. (WBUR)

ELECTIONS

Mayor Marty Walsh welcomes Joe Biden for a Boston visit, but isn’t ready to endorse the former VP’s presidential run. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Developers descend on a Harvard classroom to hear details on the planned Harvard build-out in lower Allston. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

In the wake of a Pioneer Institute report charging the university with scapegoating former UMass Boston chancellor Keith Motley for financial problems there, Joan Vennochi says UMass president Marty Meehan and the university board of trustees only assume “selective accountability” for what happens on the system’s campuses. She suggests perhaps there’s no need for the president’s post or a systemwide board. (Boston Globe)

John Vosburgh is stepping down as superintendent of the Adams Cheshire Regional School District after just one year on the job. The district is now looking for a new leader for the third time in three years. (Berkshire Eagle)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Critics of marijuana legalization, including the director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Addiction Medicine, tell attendees at a forum at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum that the risks of psychosis from the drug are being downplayed. (Boston Globe) Among those speaking at the event was former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, with whom CommonWealth conducted this recent interview about his book, Tell Your Children, warning of pot’s dangers.

ARTS/CULTURE

Barr Foundation president James Canales and Boston Foundation president Paul Grogan issue a call for greater support of the arts in Boston from individuals, philanthropy, government, and the private sector. (Boston Globe)

The American Repertory Theater has hired a renowned British architecture firm to design its new theater planned for the Harvard campus development in lower Allston. (Boston Globe)

Joe Thompson, the director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, is facing motor vehicle homicide charges in connection with a collision with a motorcyclist last year. Thompson’s attorney says he is innocent. (Berkshire Eagle)

To mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Cape Cod Military Museum in Bourne is holding an exhibit until June 30 commemorating the landings and the area’s role in the operation, considered a significant victory for the Allies that gave them a foothold to liberate Nazi-occupied Europe. (Cape Cod Times) After landing on Utah Beach 75 years ago during the D-Day invasion of occupied France, Wallace Burbine spent nine hours in a foxhole while artillery blasted away. (Gloucester Daily Times)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Eversource launches a crowd-sourced energy efficiency program, offering financial incentives to homeowners and businesses that let the utility remotely control devices that store or reduce consumption of electricity. (CommonWealth)

After a one-and-a-half-year court battle, the proposal for a 13-acre solar farm is once again before the Bridgewater Planning Board. (Brockton Enterprise)

Emily Norton, a Newton city councilor, debunks the fracked gas fairy tale. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Jurors will determine who is responsible for the 2011 death of Jason Lew, who was an employee at the Cape Cod & Islands Community Mental Health Center in Pocasset, as the trial in a wrongful-death lawsuit gets underway in Barnstable Superior Court. The civil suit, filed by Lew’s adult children in 2012, accuses Lew’s medical team of failing to provide care that could have saved his life. (Cape Cod Times)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe sees an opening in Rhode Island with GateHouse Media cuts at the Providence Journal. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

Media critic Dan Kennedy continues to unwrap the GateHouse Media layoffs. (Media Nation)