Erika Murray, a Massachusetts woman found living in a house with three sets of skeletal remains of infants, was in court Monday to answer to various heinous charges, including counts of murder, assault and battery, and animal cruelty. The 31-year-old was arrested in September and originally charged with fetal death concealment. But developments and revelations since prompted a Grand Jury to indict Murray on nine charges, including two counts of murder, that were far more severe.
The Associated Press reported (via ABC News) Dec. 29 that Erika Murray spoke clearly when she pleaded not guilty to the list of charges. Besides the two murder charges, the mother of seven (three deceased and four living) was also charged with two counts of assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury, two counts of reckless endangerment of a child, two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of concealing a fetal death.
Murray’s lawyer, Keith Halpern, says he doesn’t believe his client is responsible for the babies’ deaths. Halpern is also claiming that his client is mentally ill.
Halpern said after Monday’s hearing that Erika Murray was a captive of the house as much as the four living children were. “She was mentally ill to the point where she was incapable of doing anything. The house looked the way it looked because she was sick.”
The house, when police entered it in September, following a neighbor’s complaint that the children seemed neglected. The house was piled high with trash and dirty diapers. According to CBS Boston in October, animal carcasses were found and the house was infested with rodents as well as insects.
The four living children were removed from the home and placed with child protective services. Workers in hazmat suits later spent days going through the house, cleaning it out. The house was subsequently demolished.
Halpern went on, according to the Associated Press: “If she was determined to murder these children, why did they find three corpses and not five? … It does not make sense to portray her as a serial child killer.”
Prosecutors, however, tell a story of willful neglect. They contend that Murray gave birth to five of the children in the bathroom in an effort to hide their existence from their father, because he didn’t want any more children. She then kept the children in the upstairs rooms.
For his part, the boyfriend, 38-year-old Raymond Rivera, says he lived in the basement of the house and didn’t know of the condition of the floors above him. He also says he knows nothing about the poor treatment of the children. In fact, he claims to not even know that two of them exist.
Prosecutors contend Rivera knew far more than he allows and have charged him with seven criminal counts. Those include two counts of assault and battery causing substantial bodily injury and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child. He has pleaded not guilty to them all.
Halpern argued that it was unbelievable that Rivera could have lived in the house and not known about the conditions of the house or about the children.
A medical examiner was given the task of determining the age of the skeletal remains. Two were infants and one was a fetus. All three sets of remains were found in bedroom closets. One was stuffed inside a backpack.
As for the four living children, all were found malnourished, filthy, and covered with feces. (It was a child covered in feces that had come to the reporting neighbor’s house asking if they knew how to stop a baby from crying that had prompted the call to police in September.) Prosecutors told the judge that a 3-year-old could neither talk nor walk, was severely malnourished and had maggots in her ears. If that wasn’t horrible enough, the 3-year-old and the nearly 6-month-old are both developmentally delayed, according to a pediatrician. The 3-year-old’s musculature also showed signs of weakness, and it is believed that the child has spent much of her life on her back.
Erika Murray is being held on $1 million bail. Raymond Rivera is being held on $100,000 bail. He is also charged with growing marijuana in the house.