BLACKSTONE, Mass. — It was a shocking and gruesome discovery: three dead infants found in a Massachusetts home so squalid that police officers had to search it in hazmat suits.
Now, days later, as investigators continue to search through what the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office describes as the home’s “deplorable conditions (such as) massive insect infestation, mounds of used diapers and feces,” a picture is beginning to emerge of the family that lived inside.
And it’s a picture so deranged, so unfathomable to a reasonable mind, that even a lawyer for the accused calls the situation “completely inexplicable.”
Erika Murray was arraigned Friday on a bevy of charges stemming from the discovery of the dead infants at her home the day before, but she has not been charged in their deaths.
The 31-year-old pleaded not guilty to charges of concealing an out of wedlock fetal death, two counts of permitting substantial injury to a child, intimidation of a witness, cruelty to an animal and violating an abuse prevention order, according to Tim Connolly, a district attorney spokesman.
Whether or not Murray is the mother is not known by authorities for certain at this point, but her attorney assumes that she is.
“My expectation is that it will be confirmed that they were indeed hers,” Keith Halpern said.
Murray lived in the now-condemned single family home with her longtime boyfriend, Ray Rivera, and the couple’s children. Just how many children lived with them in the vermin-infested 1,150-square-foot home, however, depends on which parent you ask: of the four living children that the state removed from the home on Aug. 28, Murray told investigators that Rivera, 38, only knew about two of them.The other two — a 3 year old and an infant, according to Halpern — were apparently not only born in secret but lived hidden from their father amid mountains of garbage under the same roof.
Rivera also “presumably” did not know about the ones that had died, at least according to the account Murray has told authorities, Halpern said.
“It is a mystery to me how Mr. Rivera could have failed to notice (the) numerous pregnancies (of) the woman with whom he shared a bed,” said Halpern. “It’s a mystery to me how he could have failed to realize that there were two children living under the same roof as him, and he didn’t know about it.”
We were unable to reach Rivera or members of his family Sunday evening. He has not been charged with any crime, and there is no public record of physical abuse.
‘Prisoner of her own fear’
Halpern said that while his client’s explanation “is not based in reality,” the situation Murray came to be in was the result of fear, not malice. “She was terrified of the pregnancies being discovered,” said Halpern. “She was terrified of the two younger children being discovered. Why? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Whether based in reality or not, Halpern said Murray was “a prisoner of her own fear” and suggested it was that fear that explains the three infants found dead in her home. “Try to imagine the state of mind of a woman who attempts to hide a pregnancy, go into labor and deliver children — at least twice, but presumably five times — on her own.”
“I feel certain that she did not do anything to harm any of these children,” he said. “I don’t think there will be a determination that they were killed.”
Though Halpern said he has yet to consult with a pathologist, he said it is not clear if they were ever alive to begin with or if they were all stillborn.
Abuse suspected in 2007
The state’s removal of the four living children at the home last month was the result of the filing of what’s called a 51A report in Massachusetts, according to Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state’s office of Health and Human Services. A 51A can be filed by any citizen with reason to believe that a child has been abused or neglected.
This was not the first time a 51A had been filed when it came to that home, according to a Massachusetts Department of Children and Families spokeswoman. Cayenne Isaksen said such a report was previously received in 2007, but that “it was unsupported and therefore no case was opened.”
For now, Isaksen said DCF has Murray’s four children in its care and is focused on “ensuring (their) safety and well-being and providing them with the proper medical care, support and services they need,” she said. Connolly said that the family caring for them has no public statement to make at this time.
Murray’s case was adjourned to October 14. Investigators, meanwhile, remain at the scene digging through the squalor.
“Our investigation will continue for quite some time,” said Joseph Early, the Worcester County District Attorney.