WORCESTER, Mass. (WPRI) — A Blackstone woman accused of killing one of her babies and abusing two of her other children received a mixed verdict in her case Thursday morning.
Judge Janet Kenton-Walker issued the verdict after hearing the jury-waived trial – finding Erika Murray guilty of two counts of animal cruelty and two counts of assault and battery, causing injury to a child.
The judge acquitted Murray of a second-degree murder charge and reckless endangerment charges.
Murray, 35, faced several charges including murder after the skeletal remains of three infants were found inside a closet in her trash-strewn and vermin-infested home on St. Paul Street, where she had been living with her four surviving children.
Murray was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and two counts of assault and battery on a charge causing bodily injury. However, she was only found guilty on the two counts of assault and battery on her two younger children – a 3-year-old daughter and a 5-month-old daughter.
According to the DA’s office, each of the four counts on which Murray was found guilty carry a max of 5 years to serve. She could face up to 20 years if the counts are served consecutively.
Judge Janet Kenton-Walker explained that as a bench trial without a jury, she is not required to list the specific findings in facts, as does a jury, but she did anyway to explain her reasoning. The judge reminded both the Commonwealth and Murray’s defense that she was only considering the way the laws were written and the evidence presented in the courtroom, which included 24 witnesses, 110 exhibits, and reasonable inferences drawn from all of it.
In looking at the statute for the two charges of reckless endangerment on Murray’s two older children, Judge Kenton-Walker said the Commonwealth had to prove the subjective state of mind of the defendant. The judge found that the Commonwealth could not prove Murray was of conscious mind in knowing that her children would be at risk of injury in living in the house of squalor. The judge concluded that Murray suffered a combination of preexisting and superimposed cognitive deficits that severely compromised her decision making.
However, on the two charges of assault and battery, Judge Kenton-Walker explained that the statute does not require the Commonwealth to prove a subjective state of mind, rather a state of mind that a “normal” person would have. In other words, they must look at if the children were in danger based on a normal person’s actions. Without her mental state being considered, Murray was found guilty on those two charges.
Murray’s defense attorney, Keith Halpern, explained that further when speaking to the media outside court. “The difference between the court’s decision on the younger kids versus the older kids isn’t about a difference in the facts, it’s about a difference in the law. It’s about a difference in what it is the Commonwealth has to prove. Two of the counts, the counts concerning the older kids require them to prove her subjective state of the mind, but the counts concerning McKenzie and Madison, don’t.”
The jury-waived trial of Erika Murray wrapped up last week.