BLACKSTONE — The couple at the center of a horrendous case of child neglect — and whose home contained the remains of three dead infants — are scheduled to be reunited in the same courthouse next month, each facing different charges related to the depraved scene at their house.
Erika L. Murray, a 31-year-old mother being held at a women’s prison in Framingham, is set to appear in Uxbridge District Court Oct. 14 on charges that include concealing fetal death and permitting substantial injury to a child. Murray’s court-appointed attorney, Keith Halpern, said Monday that he and his client realize that far more serious charges could be filed after examinations are completed of the remains of three infants found in the house.
“We have to wait for forensic work to be done,” Halpern said after meeting with Murray for about two hours yesterday.
Halpern declined to say what Murray has told him about whether the three infants were born alive, were stillborn, or were the results of miscarriages. If it is determined that the infants were born alive and if their deaths could have been prevented, murder charges could be filed.
Meanwhile, the alleged father of Murray’s four living children, Ramon Rivera III, 37, an employee at the print and copy unit of Staples in Framingham, has not been charged with child endangerment or concealing deaths. He was accused of minor drug charges as a result of seizures made in the basement of the home Aug. 28. Rivera, who is not being held, is also due back in court Oct. 14.
The Globe’s efforts to reach Rivera have been unsuccessful, and court officials say they do not have any indication that he has hired a lawyer. His office voice mail says he will be away for “the unforeseen future” and refers callers to another company number.
According to court records released Monday, police who entered the basement of the home on Aug. 28, responding to a neighbor’s complaint related to a baby crying, found pre-bagged marijuana in two glass jars, loose marijuana buds, and a marijuana plant beneath a yellow fluorescent “drop light.”
Rivera has told local police that he confined himself primarily to the basement and that he was only aware that he had fathered two children with Murray, a 13-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, who have been widely described by neighbors and relatives as attending school and appearing relatively normal.
However, on Aug. 28 when police entered the home at 23 St. Paul Street in Blackstone, a community of about 9,000 residents in the southern edge of Worcester County, they also found two younger children, a 3-year-old girl and a 5-month-old baby, in second-floor bedrooms. Both of these children were covered in feces, according to police.
The police were called to the home that day by a neighbor whose son had been playing with Murray’s 10-year-old. The boy had asked her for help quieting a crying baby, she said. She then entered the home to find a 5-month-old child and 3-year-old child in separate rooms on the second floor.
Each child was filthy, and it appeared the baby’s fingernails had never been cut. She said the 3-year-old was in worse condition than the infant, rocking back and forth as she sat in the middle of a bed that sagged because it was so saturated with feces. The neighbor said the toddler could not speak.
After officers arrived, the woman said, she disrobed the infant. She said she couldn’t find anything clean to wipe the baby.
“Everything had maggots on it. Everything had feces on it, so I took my shirt off,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified because she did not want publicity.
She said she did not pick up the toddler, but used the light on her phone’s video camera to keep the child entertained while officers went through the house.
When an officer kicked open a locked door in one of the rooms, the woman said, she was overcome by an indescribable stench. The officer then instructed her to put the baby down and leave the home, she said.
When police confronted Murray that day, she allegedly said that all four children were hers, “but she has not told anyone in her family, including her two older children, that the younger children are hers.” When asked why, she said that “it was because she wasn’t planning on having these two younger children and knew she couldn’t afford to have them.”
Her comments, contained in a police report made public Monday, correspond with what her attorney, Halpern, has said about Murray’s secret life. The lawyer said she told him that her longtime boyfriend, Rivera, whom she met while in high school when both worked at MacDonald’s, made it clear that he didn’t want more than two children and that money was a factor.
“She knew Ray did not want any more children,” Halpern said.
Murray allegedly told Rivera, her two older children, and others that the two younger children belonged to another woman and that she was babysitting them.
Halpern said that he has not interviewed Rivera, but based on his interviews with Murray and others, he does not believe Rivera was confined to the basement. He said the basement had little furniture and a television, but no kitchen or bathroom.
Halpern said Rivera slept upstairs, which would mean Rivera would have seen the squalid conditions of the 1,150-square-foot house.
But it remains unclear how merged or separate were the lives of this couple who apparently struggled financially since their first child was born 13 years ago. In recent years, Rivera apparently worked long hours at Staples, and Murray had a double life as a mother, one in which she posted cheerful Facebook photos of her two school-age children and another in which she hid pregnancies behind baggy clothes and gave birth clandestinely at home.
Rivera, however, is not the only one who portrayed their lives as somewhat segregated. On Aug. 28, Murray gave a handwritten statement to police regarding the marijuana saying, “Officers asked me about the basement, and I haven’t been down there for 5 months and nothing belongs to me.”
Still, Murray’s attorney said he cannot fathom why Rivera did not respond to the deplorable conditions of the house or what appears to be a profound deterioration of his girlfriend’s mind.
Of the four children taken from the home, the oldest two are in the custody of a paternal grandparent, while the two youngest are in a foster care arrangement while receiving treatment in a health care facility.
It is not known why the older children were not placed with the maternal grandparents, who had an ongoing relationship with them, especially the oldest, who spent her first few years in their home when Murray and Rivera lived there as young parents.
A look at court records, however, shows that Sharon White Murray, the children’s maternal grandmother, has default warrants issued against her, including one issued for a failure to pay more than $100,000 in restitution in an embezzlement case. Past arrests and convictions are considered in determining foster care placements, according to a lawyer with extensive knowledge about foster care background checks.
Town officials said Monday they expected to spend $20,000 to clean up the small 1½-story home on St. Paul Street. The bill will be sent to the homeowner, who is Rivera’s sister, officials said.
The officials said they hoped the cleanup, which began last week, would be finished by Tuesday afternoon. So far, two 20-cubic-yard dumpsters have been filled with debris from the home.
The state medical examiner’s office was expected to perform autopsies on the remains of the three infants found in the house, though it is unknown how long these tests will take, according to Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., whose office is investigating the deaths.