WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts woman who lived in a squalid home where police said they found the skeletal remains of three babies pleaded not guilty Monday to two counts of murder.
Erika Murray, 31, spoke clearly as she was arraigned Monday on nine charges. Superior Court Judge James Lemire ordered her held without bail. Her next court date is Feb. 4. The mother of seven children — four living, three deceased — had originally been charged with fetal death concealment. She had pleaded not guilty to that lower charge and has since been jailed on $1 million bail.
Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted Murray on the nine counts. The charges also include two counts of assault and battery on a child causing substantial bodily injury, two counts of reckless endangerment of a child, two counts of cruelty to animals and one count of concealing a fetal death.
Murray's lawyer, Keith Halpern, has said there's no evidence she caused the deaths of the three babies.
Prosecutors said Murray gave birth to the five youngest children in the house's bathroom, attempting to hide their existence from their father because he did not want to have more children. She appears to have kept them almost entirely in upstairs bedrooms filled with trash.
The children "weren't the only captives in this house," Halpern said after Monday's hearing. "She was too. ... She was mentally ill to the point where she was incapable of doing anything. The house looked the way it looked because she was sick."
Halpern continued: "If she was determined to murder these children, why did they find three corpses and not five? ... It does not make sense to portray her as a serial child killer."
The two murder charges relate to two dead infants who were found wearing diapers and one-piece outfits. The other set of remains were of a fetus, authorities have said. All three were found in bedroom closets.
Halpern argued in court for Murray's release until trial, saying prosecutors had not made a case for keeping her in isolation in a women's prison.
But Assistant District Attorney John Bradley argued that the circumstances of the case, including the deplorable living conditions in the house and the health of the surviving children, were reasons enough.
Bradley said the dead fetus had the placenta and umbilical cord still attached; a 3-year-old could neither talk nor walk, was severely malnourished and had maggots in her ears; and a nearly 6-month-old appeared to have spent much of her young life on her back.
State police entered the Blackstone home on Sept. 10 after a neighbor had discovered the older children severely neglected.
Police found the house contained dead animals, was infested with rodents and insects and was piled high with dirty diapers and trash. Workers in hazmat suits spent days cleaning out the house, which was eventually condemned and demolished.
Murray's four living children, who ranged in age from about 5 months to 13 years when they were removed from the home in September, are in the custody of state child welfare officials.
Raymond Rivera, Murray's boyfriend and the father of the children, has pleaded not guilty to seven charges, including two counts of assault and battery causing substantial bodily injury and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child.
He claims he lived in the basement and was unaware of the conditions in the rest of the house, let alone the existence of two of the children — an argument that prosecutors contest. Rivera, 38, is being held on $100,000 bail. He is due back in court on Jan. 14.