UXBRIDGE, Mass. — They were hidden away in closets just a few feet from where their siblings slept: the skeletal remains of three infants found in a squalid, vermin-infested house.
On Tuesday, a judge ordered a Massachusetts woman held on $1 million cash bail after prosecutors said at least two of the babies may have been alive for “some period of time” before they were discovered. Prosecutors had asked for $5 million bail and said Erika Murray could face more serious charges in a case that has repulsed residents of the small town of Blackstone.
Murray, 31, a resident of the town, had been held without bail since her arraignment last month on charges of fetal death concealment, witness intimidation and permitting substantial injury to a child.
The state Department of Children and Families removed four children ranging in age from 5 months to 13 years from Murray’s home in August after her 10-year-old son asked a neighbor for help in quieting a crying baby. The neighbor found the youngest child — the 5-month-old girl — and a 3-year-old girl both covered in their own feces, in separate bedrooms.
Friends and neighbors have said Murray appeared to hide the existence of the two youngest children. A prosecutor said in court Tuesday that the two children had never been outside.
After interviewing the 10-year-old and 13-year-old, police got a search warrant and went back to the house, where they found the skeletal remains of one baby with a full head of hair in a backpack in the closet of an upstairs bedroom.
After discovering those remains, police obtained another search warrant. During the second search, they found the remains of two other babies in another bedroom, also inside a closet. The two oldest children slept in the bedrooms.
Both bodies were found wearing diapers and one-piece infant outfits, Assistant District Attorney John Bradley said during a bail hearing for Murray in Uxbridge District Court.
Bradley said prosecutors still don’t know how the babies died or their ages and are awaiting findings from the state medical examiner’s office. He said the fact that two of the babies were clothed seems to indicate “at least two of the babies were alive for some period of time” before they died.
Bradley said the charges against Murray could be upgraded, depending on the medical examiner’s findings.
Raymond Rivera III, identified in court as her live-in boyfriend, has not been charged in connection with the remains found inside the house. A friend of Rivera’s told The Boston Globe last month that Rivera was in “complete shock” when he learned he was the father of the two younger children.
Bradley said Murray’s 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son told police that Murray instructed them to lie to their father, Rivera, and say Murray was babysitting for the two younger children.
He faces drug charges for allegedly growing marijuana in the basement, and appeared briefly in Uxbridge District Court on Tuesday. A judge told Rivera he needs to hire an attorney. Rivera quickly left the courthouse while reporters were questioning Murray’s lawyer.
Bradley said Murray told police that Rivera was the father of all four of her children. Bradley did not address whether she said Rivera, who is also known as Ramon Rivera III in some public records, had also fathered the three infants whose remains were found in the closets.
Murray’s attorney, Keith Halpern, said the fact the babies were clothed is not by itself proof that the infants were alive for a significant amount of time. He suggested the babies may have been stillborn or could have had some kind of medical emergencies.
Halpern said he believes investigators are still in the process of “putting together the pieces of what happened in that house.”
“There are parts of this story that make absolutely no sense,” Halpern said.
Bradley said a pediatrician who later examined the 5-month-old and 3-year-old girls found they had been “profoundly neglected” and “severely malnourished.” The 3-year-old could not walk and could not feed herself. Neither child had ever been outside, Bradley said.
Murray initially told police she had the children at a local hospital, but later said she had given birth to them in the bathroom of her home.
Murray’s lawyer, Halpern, said it “makes no sense” that Rivera could have lived in the house and not realized there were two younger children there. But he also said it doesn’t make sense that Rivera knew about the children and did nothing about the alleged neglect.
Halpern has said he believes Murray is suffering from a mental illness. He would not elaborate when asked about that Tuesday.
Halpern said previously that he believes Murray secretly gave birth to the two younger children because her boyfriend didn’t want any more kids.
Murray was brought to the courthouse from jail, but waived her right to appear in court and was not present for the bail hearing. Both Murray and Rivera are due back in court Nov. 12.
The Blackstone Board of Health condemned the house where Murray, Rivera and the children lived and are planning to demolish it later this month. Authorities said it contained piles of dirty diapers, trash and the remains of dead animals.