Man indicted in 2003 slaying

November 4, 2013

A decade has gone by since a bright, focused 22-year-old Manassas mother was found shot to death in her home. Until recently, investigators didn’t have any leads in the case, and efforts to bring the killer to justice were stalled.

That changed Monday when a Prince William County grand jury indicted Joaquin S. Rams on a murder charge in the March 2003 death of Shawn K. Mason, a former girlfriend of Rams, said Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D).

Rams, 41, has been held for months in Prince William’s regional jail, accused of killing his 15-month-old son, Prince McLeod Rams, in October 2012. Police have said that they think Rams drowned the boy in a bathtub.

Both deaths have one thing in common: life insurance money. Authorities say Rams had taken out more than $500,000 in life insurance on his son, and that Mason had a smaller policy. In each instance, officials have said that Rams thought he could benefit from the policy.

Authorities are also looking at a third case: the 2008 death of Joaquin Rams’s mother, Alma Collins. Police have ruled her death a suicide, but Ebert said that it is still under investigation.


Joaquin Shadow Rams (AP)

“I don’t know how to characterize the guy,” Ebert said of Rams. He called the crimes “extremely cold and unusual.”

Ebert declined to discuss the specifics of the new evidence, but said it was not physical evidence at the scene of the crime.

In a family court case in 2012, a Prince William social worker noted in a report that Rams mistakenly thought he would receive funds from Mason’s life insurance policy.

In that case, Rams denied any involvement in Mason’s death. His former attorney, Timothy Olmstead, also has said that Prince’s death was an accident.

Daniel Morissette, a defense attorney representing Rams, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The search for Mason’s killer has long been cold. Mason was found with a single gunshot wound at her home in Manassas.

A year after her death, friends and family held a vigil for Mason and police asked the public for help. “There has to be a person who either knows what happened or saw or heard something the day of the incident,” a Manassas detective said then.

Members of Mason’s family could not be reached for comment Monday.

Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, Rams’s onetime fiancee, said it was chilling to think about the crimes he is accused of committing before he met her.

“I know he killed my son,” McLeod said. “It’s not a coincidence these other people die around him.”

She said she wished the murder charge had come sooner. “It should have happened 10 years ago and, if it had, people wouldn’t have died,” she said.

Rams told police at the time of Mason’s death that he had broken into her home because he was unable to reach her. He told them he discovered her body and called police.

Rams was always the prime suspect in Mason’s killing, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation. The source declined to give a name because the investigation of Rams continues.

The charge didn’t come sooner because no one was talking and there was no weapon or other physical evidence to tie him to the crime, the source said.

Authorities have said they reexamined the cases after Rams was charged with killing his son. Months ago, Ebert convened a separate, special grand jury to consider Mason’s slaying. The grand jury can compel testimony from witnesses, Olmstead said.

Ebert declined to discuss the special grand jury. He said the new charge was “the result of some good police work and a very intensive investigation.”

Rams has also been charged under his given name, John Anthony Ramirez. He has also been charged with two gun-related charges and burglary in connection with Mason’s death, all felonies, Ebert said.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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