WORCESTER — The Blackstone mother accused of concealing the births of several of her children — two of whom were imprisoned in squalid bedrooms, where closets hid the skeletal remains of three other babies — quietly pleaded not guilty to murder and other charges on Monday, before a prosecutor offered a vivid account of the horrors police said they found in her home.
After police waded through knee-high filth and discovered two horribly neglected children in Erika L. Murray’s home in September, they secured a warrant, hoping to search the house for paperwork that might provide clues about the identity of those children, the prosecutor said.
Instead, they discovered the remains of one dead baby — and, soon after, the remains of two more, all three skeletons clothed and stashed in closets in two filthy bedrooms, Assistant District Attorney John E. Bradley Jr. said during Murray’s arraignment in Worcester Superior Court.
When doctors examined the surviving children — a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old — at UMass Memorial Medical Center, they found the 3-year-old “could not walk or talk, she had basically no muscle tone, she was severely malnourished,” and she seemed deaf, Bradley said. “The pediatricians had to literally clean the maggots out of her ears so that she was able to hear correctly.”
Murray has been held on $1 million bail since September, when she was arraigned in district court on charges that included concealing a fetal death out of wedlock, permitting substantial injury to a child, and cruelty to animals. At her Superior Court arraignment Monday, following a grand-jury indictment on two counts of murder and other charges Dec. 16, Murray’s lawyer asked that she be released to home confinement.
Defense lawyer Keith S. Halpern argued that Murray posed no risk of flight or further danger, and he called the murder charges premature, with the medical examiner yet to rule on the cause of death of any of the deceased babies. Judge James Lemire disagreed, ordering Murray to remain held, now without bail, at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women’s Correctional Center in Chicopee.
To the outside world, the 31-year-old Murray and longtime boyfriend Raymond Rivera appeared to live a quiet life in a three-bedroom home on St. Paul Street with just two children, their 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. That changed Aug. 28, Bradley said, when a neighborhood friend playing with the boy called to ask his own mother if she knew how to get a baby to stop crying.
That woman visited the house, where she found no sign of Murray but climbed the stairs to discover a crying 3-year-old girl in a soiled diaper, her body “covered in feces,” in a bedroom “completely filled with trash that was piled about two feet high,” Bradley said.
In an adjacent bedroom that had “stacks of soiled diapers that were piled about a foot or so high,” the woman found a 6-month-old girl also covered in feces and wearing a soiled diaper, the prosecutor said.
That woman called 911, and Murray returned home to find authorities condemning her house and taking her children into state custody. She told police that the two infants were hers, that they had been born at Milford Hospital, and that she left them briefly to be watched by her 10-year-old son, Bradley said.
When police found no evidence the children had been born at that hospital, they returned Sept. 10 with a search warrant, looking for birth certificates. In the room where the 6-month-old had been found, they opened the closet to discover a baby’s remains “wrapped in a pair of sweat pants,” Bradley said. “The baby still had the umbilical cord and the placenta attached to it, and had what appeared to be a full head of hair.”
Returning the next day with an additional warrant, they found a second dead baby in the same closet — skeletal remains clad in a diaper and onesie — before discovering a third dead baby, this one wrapped in a blanket and wearing socks as well as a diaper and onesie, inside a cardboard box in the closet of the adjacent bedroom, Bradley said.
Murray told police that one of those babies lived one to three weeks before dying, while a grand jury witness testified to visiting the home sometime in 2008 to 2010 and seeing three living babies, Bradley said.
The prosecutor said Murray admitted that Rivera did not want more children after the first two — the 10- and 13-year-old — but she continued to have unprotected sex with him, giving birth five more times in a seven-year period. Bradley said Murray admitted she delivered each of those babies on her own in the home’s sole bathroom, on the first floor, before moving them upstairs “in an effort to hide the babies from her boyfriend.”
The boyfriend tearfully told reporters last month that he had been banished to the basement by Murray and had no idea of the deteriorating condition of the upper floors, or even the existence of any of the babies, but prosecutors said earlier this month that Rivera slept with Murray in the third upstairs bedroom and must have known. He was indicted Dec. 16 on charges that include assault and battery and reckless endangerment of children.
Halpern, the defense lawyer, said Murray’s admissions to police were inconsistent, the mutterings of a woman “who simply agreed with whatever they asked because it was her belief that if she went along with them she’d go home.”
Murray is not facing a murder charge for the baby that had the umbilical cord attached. Of the other two, Halpern argued that one could have been stillborn, and dressed after death, but that even if both lived, there is no evidence Murray murdered them.
“There is not a single case in Massachusetts that supports a conviction of murder on evidence so speculative and so weak,” he said. “The appropriate thing would have been to wait for the medical examiner’s report to be completed.”
After Halpern’s argument, the judge waited only briefly before denying bail.
District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. said afterward that the charges are deserved. “Our concern is with the dead babies and the children that are still alive who were found in horrible conditions,” he said. “We’ll let the case play out in court and go from there.”
Halpern told reporters that if Murray was indeed a child killer and not a mother “mentally ill to the point she was incapable of doing anything,” she would have done more to conceal the bodies besides leaving them in closets.