A Massachusetts woman was found not guilty of murder Thursday in a decision that apparently even surprised the defendant herself.
Boston Globe reports that a Worcester County judge found 35-year-old Erika Murray not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of babies found decomposing inside a closet in her Blackstone home in 2014. The defendant was also found not guilty of child endangerment charges, but found guilty of battery on a child and assault.
The case started in 2014 after a friend Murray’s 10-year-old child went to his mother, Betsy Brown, for help because an infant in Murray’s home wouldn’t stop crying. Brown went to Murray’s home and found two young girls completely filthy and living among trash, dirty diapers and feces. Brown said the house had an overpowering “stench,” according to the outlet.
One of the children, a baby, was on a bed, covered in feces and crying. There were no adults present. Brown called police for help.
When authorities arrived to the home, they were almost immediately covered in fleas and insects, according to Blackstone Acting Police Chief Gregory Gilmore.
“The investigators began to notice bugs or flying insects, fleas began to collect on our clothing. There was some further concern about our health.”
Police eventually removed four children from the home, ages 13, 10, 3 and 6 months. When authorities searched Murray’s home, they found the bodies of three deceased babies.
Two of the babies had clothing and diapers on, but one still had its umbilical cord attached. Medical examiners were unable to determine the cause of death. Prosecutors charged Murray with murder in connection with two of the deaths.
When questioned by investigators, Murray claimed her abusive boyfriend didn’t want more children. In turn, she gave birth to her two youngest surviving daughters in a downstairs bathroom, and kept them hidden. When her other children noticed the younger girls, Murray pretended they were children of the neighbors.
The two girls had never been outside and never been to the doctor. DCF social worker Walter McClain testified that one of the girls had something crawling in her ear.
“We looked inside of her ear and I believe – I can’t say it was maggots but it was something crawling inside of her ear,” McClain said. “You couldn’t tell the color of this baby because there was so much filth on this child.”
The 13-year-old and the 10-year-old were “generally cared for,” according to the outlet, and attended public school. Meanwhile, the two younger girls had little care.
“She lived in that house, every day,” Murray’s lawyer, Keith Halprin, said. “This isn’t a situation where she was subjecting her kids to something that she wasn’t subjecting herself to. I mean, the first question I asked when I saw this case was, ‘How could anybody think that a person in their right mind could live in that house?’”
According to NBC Boston, authorities also found a “dirty, mangy and thin” dog in the home, locked up in a cage.
Murray denied murdering the three deceased infants. She initially lied to police about their existence, but eventually claimed two died of stillbirth and the other only lived a short time before passing away.
Yet, a forensic anthropologist who testified for the prosecution said one of the babies Murray claimed was dead at birth was actually born alive. The anthropologist said he identified the baby’s “neonatal line,” which appears after a baby is born alive. The defense called their own expert who argued that science didn’t back up what the anthropologist claimed.
Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists testified that Murray had avoidant and dependent personality disorders and didn’t understand the urgency of the situation. They also testified the woman lived in fear of her boyfriend, 42-year-old Raymond Rivera.
Judge Kenton-Walker said that the combination of Murray’s mental state and her fear of her boyfriend made her incapable of understanding how severe the issues were. However, since the youngest living children showed signs of extreme neglect and abuse, the judge charged her with battery and assault.
Rivera is facing charges of assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury, and reckless endangerment of a child. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
Murray’s sentencing is scheduled for later this year.
“Crime Stories with Nancy Grace” podcast investigates the latest true crime and justice news. Here are related episodes:
[Feature Photo: Erika Murphy via AP, Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Paul Kapteyn, Pool]