A Massachusetts woman has been found not guilty of murder after the remains of three dead infants were discovered in her filthy and vermin-infested home once dubbed the “House of Horrors.”
Judge Janet Kenton-Walker declared Erika Murray, 35, not guilty of murder after ruling that her mental impairments had prevented her from realizing the dire nature of her living conditions, but convicted her of lesser crimes including cruelty to animals and two counts of assault and battery of a child, local station WFXT reports.
Murray was arrested after investigators found the bodies of three dead infants hidden inside closets of her Blackstone, Massachusetts home in 2014. Four living children were also found living in squalor and filth and were removed from the home by authorities.
Prosecutors had contended that Murray was a neglectful mom—forcing her children to live among trash, dead animals, dirty diapers and other filth—and believed that one of the babies had been born alive and died after Murray failed to seek any medical attention for the child.
However, Kenton-Walker ruled that while the death was “senseless” and “tragic” the prosecution had been unable to prove that Murray had caused the infant’s death.
“Regardless of how disturbing the facts surrounding this care are to the community at large and to me as a parent, I cannot take into account those feelings,” she said of her decision, according to The Associated Press.
She also acquitted Murray of charges of reckless endangerment of a child after ruling that Murray’s mental conditions had prevented her from realizing how filthy the family’s living conditions had become.
“Cognitive deficits, personality disorder and victimization…produced extremely primitive coping mechanisms,” she said, according to WFXT. “She was not conscious or aware of how bad everything had become.”
After the decision, Murray’s defense attorney Keith Halpern spoke to the media saying that although Murray’s home was an unhealthy environment for her children, he did not believe her actions met the requirements of a murder charge and said the prosecution had been unable to prove that Murray could have taken any action to have saved the child’s life.
“The facts in this case would not allow any judge to convict her of murder if they followed the law,” he said, according to MassLive.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. also released a statement after the verdict, thanking those who had worked tirelessly to bring the case to trial.
“This was a very hard case with a very difficult set of facts as it always is when dealing with children who are victims,” he said. “It has emotionally affected many people throughout Worchester County.”
Murray gained the attention of investigators in 2014 after her 10-year-old son had asked for the neighbor’s help with a young infant in the home who was crying. When the neighbor arrived, she found the baby on a bed crying and no adults present. The baby was covered in feces and she called child welfare authorities after being concerned about the condition of the home.
All four children, including the 10-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl, 3-year-old girl and 6-month old girl, were later removed from the home.
The bodies of the three dead infants were found stored inside cardboard boxes in closets of the home. Two were dressed in diapers and clothing while the third still had a placenta attached, according to the Associated Press.
Blackstone Police Chief Gregory Gilmore thanked those who worked on the “disturbing and difficult” case, saying it had been most difficult for the children involved.
“We also hope that with the end of this case, our community, which was shocked to our very core, can find closure,” he said in a statement.
Murray will be sentenced for the two counts of animal cruelty and two counts of assault and battery of a child in the case in July.
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