For about two weeks beginning on June 4, Erika Murray, 35, the Blackstone mother accused of neglecting her two young children while hiding the skeletal remains of three infants, has stood trial on a related murder and child abuse charges.
Multiple news outlets have referred to the case as the “House of Horrors” because of the squalid conditions discovered within her home — dirty diapers, insects and rodents, and garbage. The state of the home was discovered back in late August 2014, when a neighbor went inside. It was later condemned and torn down.
Initially, Murray faced two counts of second-degree murder — one of which was dropped during the bench trial — and two counts each of assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury, child reckless endangerment, and animal cruelty, according to MassLive.
Murray lived in the home with her four living children — ages 13, 10, 3, and 5 months — the two oldest reportedly cared for, the two youngest allegedly neglected, according to The Boston Globe. Her attorney has argued that she is mentally ill and that there is no evidence she caused the infant’s death.
The defense also called on mental health experts who testified that Murray’s relationship with the children’s father, Raymond Rivera, was negative and that he used controlling behaviors, MassLive reported.
While the defense has portrayed Murray as someone who suffers from mental illness, the prosecution brought in forensic psychiatrist Fabian Saleh, who disputed this, according to MassLive.
“The conclusions I reached is that Ms. Murray did not suffer from a mental illness at any point in time in her life,” Saleh said.
With the case now in the hands of the judge, here are some moments from the trial:
‘Just everywhere you looked, there was filth’
Betsy Brown was the neighbor who discovered the alleged squalor within the home. She took the stand to describe what she saw.
“Just everywhere you looked, there was filth,” she said. “On the walls there were like little baby handprints and feces. … Dirty diapers, lots of dirty diapers; baby bottles with maggots in them.”
‘We opened the box, and we discovered the human remains’
Sgt. Keith Egan, a member of the state police assigned to the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, described how he, and another member of the force, found the remains of one of the infants in a closet.
Debris inside the bedroom was about 2 feet high in some areas, he said. A path was cleared to the closet.
“We started removing the boxes to conduct a thorough search to see what was inside those boxes,” Egan said. “The box came out. We opened the box, and we discovered the human remains. … Upon seeing that we made an observation, and through our training and experience, ‘Yes, this was human remains.’ … The box was placed inside the closet. It was a brown box, cardboard, contained items on top of the box such as a blanket. There were miscellaneous pieces of clothing that when we opened the box we could observe. As we started removing the top portion of the box, that is when we located the human remains.”
‘I can’t say it was maggots, but there was something crawling inside of her ear’
Walter McClain, of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, described the kitchen of Murray’s home, and the condition of one of the younger children.
“I went to the kitchen, I lift up a dish from the sink because it was loaded everywhere, including the stove,” he said. “And there was slime falling off all the dishes. You couldn’t walk anywhere on the floor without stepping on dirt, slime, or whatever — candy wrappers, soda cans, soda bottles, cookies. It was everywhere. I fell into the room and landed into something. I don’t know what it was, but it was squishy. And obviously I wiped it on my shirt, whatever. Eventually I left that area and I touched my hand to my eye and I got a massive infection in my eye.”
McClain also described the moment when one of the children was brought outside.
“She had a T-shirt on that was — dry urine, feces, food, Oreo cookies that was laid on the bed that was crushed up for the children to try to eat,” he said. “Her clothes that she had on was stained, dirty, like I said feces on it. It was stiff, like it had dried up. We brought her to the car, and she was just limp, no muscle tone whatsoever. We put her inside the car, and we looked inside of her ear, and, I believe, I can’t say it was maggots, but there was something crawling inside of her ear.”
‘She was from a social standpoint remarkably frightened by anything that we did’
Dr. Heather Forkey, who treated one of Murray’s children, described her interactions with her patient.
“She didn’t present the way a normal 3-year-old child would present,” she said. “She was from a social standpoint remarkably frightened by anything that we did. She, when approached or any noises were made, she would fold herself up and close her body down.”
‘There is no evidence here that that baby was alive’
One of the two murder charges against Murray was dropped due to lack of evidence that one of the babies found inside the home was born alive, MassLive reported.
“There is no evidence here that that baby was alive, and therefore it could not have been a victim of a homicide without some evidence,” Judge Janet Kenton-Walker said.