The bench trial of Massachusetts woman Erika Murray began June 4. Murray was charged with murder after the bodies of three dead babies were found in her Blackstone home.
In August 2014, a concerned neighbor reported the conditions in Murray’s home to police. The neighbor, Betsy Brown, testified that her son used to play with Murray’s ten-year-old son. The boys called her from Murray’s home one afternoon because they couldn’t get the baby to stop crying. Brown was surprised because she didn’t know there was a baby in the Murray house.
When she entered the home for the first time, Brown was horrified by the overwhelming odor. “I immediately bent over I was trying to throw up,” Brown said. “Gagging, dry heaving, my eyes were watering. I was just immediately sick, physically ill.” She found two children upstairs covered in human waste, which prompted her to call the police. Police searched the home and found four children living there: a six-month-old, a three-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a 13-year-old.
On a later search of the home, police discovered the remains of two infants and one fetus hidden in bedroom closets. According to CBS Boston, one of the babies still had the umbilical cord in.
Murray is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, 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.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Media Are Calling Her Home a ‘House of Horrors’
The deplorable conditions inside Murray’s home have led the media to dub it the Blackstone house of horrors. In his stomach-turning testimony, Blackstone Police Officer Michael Pavone described what he found when he entered the home in 2014. Pavone testified that he found a toddler in the home in a room with trash covering the floor. He said he also found a baby covered in feces, surrounded by garbage and used diapers.
Pavone also testified about struggling to enter another room in the home because several feet of trash were blocking the door. He said there were human feces on the wall and maggots all over.
Worcester Telegram reports former Assistant District Attorney John Bradley said, “The upstairs was filthy beyond belief. There was an overwhelming stench of feces.” He went on to say the infant police found in the home looked like she had been, “dipped in feces” and that soiled diapers were stacked over a foot high in some places.
Blackstone Acting Police Chief Gregory Gilmore also shared disturbing details about the home in his testimony. After just 15 minutes in the house, he described being covered with bugs and fleas. “The investigators began to notice bugs or flying insects, fleas began to collect on our clothing. There was some further concern about our health,” Gilmore said.
A clean-up crew determined that the house was too filthy to be restored, so it was demolished by order of the town’s Board of Health, Mass Live reports.
In 2014, the Boston Herald reported that court documents obtained from the Department of Youth Services showed that Murray knew conditions in her home were unliveable. The papers show Murray, “agreed that her Blackstone home is not suitable for children to be living in, or anyone else.”
2. Murray’s Defense Says She Is Mentally Ill
Murray has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her, and her defense attorney Keith Halpern claims that mental illness prevented his client from responding appropriately to the conditions in her home. In his opening statement, Halpern said Murray’s behavior, “did not involve criminal conduct, it involved illness. He went on to say that there was no evidence to suggest that his client “did anything wrong or criminal that caused the death of any child.”
Halpern went on to say, “Miss Murray acknowledged that one baby was born alive and told the police that it died shortly after through no cause of hers. Not because it was neglected, not because it wasn’t fed, not because she saw something bad happen. It just died.” Halpern claims that as the infants’ causes of death cannot be determined, there is no evidence of foul play.
Halpern opted for a bench trial for his client, meaning there will be no jury and instead Worcester Judge Janet Kenton-Walker will decide the case. “The bizarre and disturbing facts made it very difficult for anyone dealing with this case to deal with it objectively,” he said.
3. Neighbors Thought Murray Only Had Two Children, But Police Found Seven
Neighbor Betsy Brown testified that she had only been aware of Murray’s two older children. However, the police investigation would find that there were two other living children in the home and the remains of three others hidden in closets. Police also noted that family photos on display in the home only showed the older two children.
Ramon Rivera, Murray’s live-in boyfriend and the alleged father of all seven children, claims that he also only knew about the older children. According to the Worcester Telegram, Ramon says he did not learn about the other children who were found in August 2014 until after they had already been taken into protective care. “I haven’t even seen a picture of the infant,” he said.
The Milford News reports that the three-year-old child was found with maggots in her ears, and she could not walk or talk. Authorities said the infant and toddler found hidden in the house had likely been kept on their backs for most of their lives. Murray’s defense claims that expert witnesses will confirm that the behavior of Murray’s two youngest children is consistent with autism and not abuse.
4. Police Say that She Had No Reaction When DCF Officials Told Her They Were Taking Her Kids Away
Blackstone police officer Michael Pavone said that Murray displayed no reaction when she was told by Department of Children and Families officials that her children would be taken away. “She had no reaction. Just a blank stare.” He also noted that she expressed concern that one of her cats may have gotten out.
5. Her Live-in Boyfriend Ramon Rivera Claims Murray Also Abused Him
Murray’s live-in boyfriend Ramon Rivera told Worcester Telegraph that he was not aware of how bad conditions were in the house because he mainly stayed in the basement. “I spent 99 percent of my time in the basement because I was told I couldn’t go out of the basement,” he said. “What was I supposed to do? I can’t punch my way through, I can’t push my way when she is standing right there. I can’t walk through her.”
Authorities found Rivera was growing marijuana in the basement of the home with intent to sell, and he was arrested in 2014 on drug-related charges. Rivera currently faces child abuse charges in a separate proceeding, CBS Boston reports.