(Photo: Karyn Regal/WBZ NewsRadio)
WORCESTER, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — A judge found the mother at the center of the Blackstone "house of horrors" case not guilty of second-degree murder Thursday morning.
Erika Murray was also found not guilty of the reckless endangerment of her two older children. She was found guilty of two counts of assault and battery on a child pertaining to her two younger children, as well as two counts of endangerment of animals.
The remains of three infants were found in Murray's Blackstone home in 2014; while one was found to have been stillborn, she faced a second-degree murder charge in the death of one of the others.
Judge Janet Kenton-Walker said there wasn't enough evidence to conclude the third was ever alive, and ordered a second murder charge against Murray dropped in the middle of the trial.
Prosecutors said Murray hid her two younger children, a three-year-old and five-month-old, from the world in a squalid, darkened home, and kept her two older children, aged 10 and 13, unaware that the younger ones were even related to them.
Defense attorney Keith Halpern argued his client was mentally ill, and that prevented her from recognizing the horrid conditions of her home—which were so bad, the town had to tear it down.
"Prison was a kind of freedom for her," Halpern said of his client. "The home was far more of a prison than the prison was."
Judge Kenton-Walker said Murray suffered from "long-standing, pre-existing cognitive deficits," "dependent and avoidant personality disorder," and "intimate partner violence at the hands of her boyfriend," Ray Rivera.
Kenton-Walker concluded that, because of those deficiencies, the Commonwealth couldn't prove Murray was aware of her situation, and found Murray not guilty of the reckless endangerment charges related to her older children.
But Kenton-Walker said that, even considering Murray's mental state, the mother should have realized her three-year-old and five-month-old were "profoundly neglected," and so found her guilty of one count of assault and battery on a child for each of those two children.
Kenton-Walker saved the second-degree murder charge for last. She said the child survived birth, and that Murray cared for it for an unknown amount of time, but that prosecutors couldn't prove that Murray caused the child's death.
"At one point, Mrs. Murray put the baby down and left it for a short time," Kenton-Walker said. "When she did so, the baby did not have any signs of distress. When she returned, Mrs. Murray found that the baby had died, because she saw that it was not breathing and was blue, although the body was still warm. Mrs. Murray wrapped it up and put it in the closet."
Kenton-Walker said it would be "preposterous" to believe Murray could have saved the child at that point, and said her failure to perform CPR or call 911 didn't satisfy the burden of proof for the second-degree murder charge, finding her not guilty.
Following the verdict, Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early released a statement thanking everyone involved in the case.
"This was a very hard case with a very difficult set of facts as it always is when dealing with children who are victims," Early wrote. "It has emotionally affected many people throughout Worcester County."
Acting Blackstone Police Chief Gregory Gilmore also released a statement, thanking the members of his department as well as the DA's office for their work in the "incredibly complex, disturbing and difficult case over the past five years."
"We also hope that with the end of this case, our community, which was shocked to our very core, can find closure," Chief Gilmore wrote.
There was no jury present for the eight days of testimony, as Murray requested a bench trial—leaving her fate to Judge Kenton-Walker.
Murray stood and hugged Halpern after the verdict was read.
"The lives those kids led, she loves those kids—so for her, this tragedy is forever," Halpern said.
Murray is set to be sentenced July 11, and will be held without bail until then.
WBZ NewsRadio's Karyn Regal (@Karynregal) reports