WORCESTER — Five years after police found two badly neglected children and the remains of three newborns in her squalid Blackstone home, Erika Murray was sentenced Thursday to six to eight years in prison.
Murray, 36, was found guilty last month of two counts of assault and battery on a child but was acquitted of second-degree murder and child endangerment charges. The grim case was decided by Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker, who called it a “senseless, tragic story about a dysfunctional parent and her family.”
Prosecutors charged Murray in the deaths of two of her babies, but Kenton-Walker ruled last month that there was insufficient evidence that one of them had been born alive. When Murray discovered that her other baby was not breathing, she did not perform CPR or call 911, according to prosecutors. But Kenton-Walker ruled it was not possible to say whether the baby would have survived even if she had.
“I cannot punish her, as some might want me to, for the fact that the remains of three babies were found in the closet,” she said Thursday. “She was not convicted of anything to do with that, and I cannot punish her for that.”
Murray, who has been in prison since her arrest in September 2014, was also sentenced to five years of probation. During that time, she will be required to undergo mental health treatment and will be barred from unsupervised contact with children under the age of 10.
In determining her punishment for a crime she called “individualized,” Kenton-Walker said she took Murray’s mental illness into account.
Prosecutor Christopher Hodgens argued Murray should be sentenced to at least four years in prison.
“The defendant was not a passerby. The defendant was not a bystander,” he said. “She was a parent. And as much as being a parent is a blessing, it also carries with it great responsibilities.”
Murray’s lawyer, Keith Halpern, said her mental illness was the critical issue in determining a fair sentence.
“If mental illness isn’t being considered as a basis for acquittal, it has to be considered — in a very profound way — in terms of culpability and what an appropriate sentence here is,” he said.
Halpern said Murray’s mental illness and lack of intent argued for a lesser sentence. He said that Murray has had a good record in jail and has participated in programs.
After the sentence, Halpern said he thought it was fair, but that additional jail time would not help Murray’s rehabilitation.
“Do I think that the sentence reasonably reflects the seriousness of what happened here? Yes,” he said. At the same time, he said “it’s hard for me to envision anybody looking at her and thinking something significant is going to be accomplished by keeping her locked up for an additional year. You know, she needs to move on.”
Police came to Murray’s house on Aug. 28, 2014, after a boy from a neighboring house, a friend of Murray’s 10-year-old son, called his mother to ask how he could get babies to stop crying. The neighbor rushed to the house and found two young girls she never knew existed covered in filth.
In all, four children were removed from the home: a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old, who were entirely hidden from the world and raised in squalor, and a 10- and 13-year-old, who went to school and were better cared for.
Police later found the remains of three babies in two closets. One still had a placenta and umbilical cord attached. The other two had been dressed in diapers and baby clothes.
Murray told police she did not think she and her boyfriend, Raymond Rivera, could afford to care for more children. She said she hid her pregnancies under baggy clothes and gave birth secretly in the bathroom.
Prosecutors ultimately decided to charge Murray with the deaths of the two newborns found clothed.
Rivera awaits trial on charges of assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury and reckless endangerment of a child. He has pleaded not guilty.