January 25, 2013

“WILLFUL, DELIBERATE and premeditated.” That is how Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert described the murder of 15½-month-old Prince McLeod Rams. The crime was allegedly committed by his father, who fought the mother’s objections to his unsupervised visits with the child, as part of a scheme to cash in on multiple insurance policies. It is a damning description that should give pause to those responsible for the institutions who, despite sufficient warning, failed to protect this little boy.

In particular, we would urge Montgomery County Circuit Court officials — who granted Prince’s father unsupervised visitation despite clearly troubling questions about him — to ask themselves again what could have been done to safeguard this child. It’s about not assessing blame but rather strengthening a system for children in need of future protection.

Joaquin S. Rams was arrested Friday by Manassas police and charged with first-degree murder in the Oct. 21 death of his son. The cause of death as determined by the medical examiner, according to Mr. Ebert, was drowning; there was no evidence to support the father’s claims that the child had suffered a seizure. An attorney for Mr. Rams did not respond Friday to requests for comment, but a Web site Mr. Rams apparently started after we began writing about the case proclaims his innocence.

Mr. Ebert said the father had three life insurance policies on his son. According to Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, police told her that the amount of the policies totaled more than $500,000 and that they were taken out in the fall of 2011. That’s the same time period in which Mr. Rams was fighting Ms. McLeod in Montgomery Circuit Court for custody of the boy. Ms. McLeod was granted sole legal and primary physical custody last March; Mr. Rams was afforded visitation but only under the supervision of a retired Montgomery police officer. Unsupervised visits were allowed months later, in August.

The proceedings in Montgomery County surfaced troubling issues about Mr. Rams. He was named by police as a suspect in the 2003 murder of his ex-girlfriend; there were questions about the 2008 death, ruled a suicide, of his mother. Insurance benefits were cited in both cases. Both deaths, Mr. Ebert told us Friday, are subject of renewed investigation by authorities. But neither the murder of the girlfriend nor questions about the mother’s death were given weight by the judge who decided custody and visitation issues.

“I give it no moment,” Montgomery Circuit Judge Michael J. Algeo said on March 14, explaining that he could not rule on suppositions, only evidence. Fair enough, but what is so unsettling about listening to hearings of the proceedings — albeit with the benefit of hindsight — is how the court seemed so skeptical of a mother’s worries but believing of a father’s claims. Is that a bias built into the family court system? That’s a question that local officials would do well to study.