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Defense: Blackstone mom’s actions were due to mental illness

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WORCESTER, Mass. (WPRI) — The trial of a mother charged with murder after three babies were found dead inside her Blackstone home back in 2014 got underway Tuesday in Worcester Superior Court.

The bench trial of Erika Murray is expected to last about two weeks, according to court officials.

Murray, 35, was found to be living in deplorable conditions with her four children at the St. Paul Street home, police said. The children were taken into Department of Children and Families (DCF) custody and the home has since been razed.

In their opening statement Tuesday morning, prosecutors said while Murray cared for her two eldest children, she severely neglected the younger two and caused the death of two others.

“Erika Murray needlessly allowed her children to suffer in that home,” Asst. District Attorney Christopher Hodgens said.

Investigators found the skeletal remains of two babies and a fetus hidden in an upstairs closet, according to prosecutors.

“The baby was born and lived for at least several days, and then she saw that baby in distress she did nothing to help that baby, and that baby died,” Hodgens added.

The defense claimed in their opening statement that there’s no proof Murray committed a crime and her actions and behavior were a result of mental illness.

“Miss Murray acknowledged that one baby was born alive and told the police that it died shortly after through no cause of hers,” defense attorney Keith Halpern said. “Not because it was neglected, not because it wasn’t fed, not because she saw something bad happen. It just died.”

“Her mental illness is not being brought into this case based on an argument that she lacked criminal responsibility, that she did things for which she was not criminally responsible,” he added. “It’s being brought into this case to explain what in fact she did, and why.”

Murray has pleaded not guilty to the charges she faces. Police said she and her boyfriend Raymond Rivera were the parents of all seven children involved. Rivera will be tried separately.

Authorities first responded to the home in August 2014 after receiving a call from a neighbor, who said a 10-year-old boy asked for help in getting babies to stop crying.

That neighbor, Betsy Brown, was the first witness to take the stand on Tuesday. She said the boy was friends with her children and recalled the “horrible, overcoming smell” when he took her inside the home.

“I immediately bent over I was trying to throw up,” Brown said. “Gagging, dry heaving, my eyes were watering. I was just immediately sick, physically ill.”

Brown testified she discovered a toddler covered in feces in a hot, dark, trash-covered room on the second floor then an infant in similar conditions in a separate room.

Brown got emotional as her 911 call from that day was played back in the courtroom.

The second witness for the prosecution was Blackstone Police Officer Michael Pavone, who responded to Murray’s home following Brown’s 911 call. Pavone said upon arrival, he noticed the smell of human feces and that the house was “really, really messy.”

According to Pavone, when DCF told Murray they were taking her children, she responded by asking if her cat had gotten out of the house.

Two other members of the Blackstone Police Department, Patrolman Anthony Lungarini and acting Chief Gregory Gilmore, also took the stand before the proceedings wrapped for the day.

Witness testimony is expected to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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