January 31, 2013

WE HAVE reported about the case of a 15-month-old boy allegedly murdered by his father for insurance money after the father obtained unsupervised visits over the objections of the child’s mother. The tragic death of Prince McLeod Rams has raised questions about the family court system in Montgomery County and whether there are differences in how it listens to men and women.

Similar questions must also be asked of officials in Prince William County. The arrest last week of Joaquin S. Rams, 40, on a first-degree murder charge of drowning his son Oct. 20 to collect $560,000 in life insurance should prompt a reexamination of decisions made by police and prosecutors who investigated an earlier incident involving Mr. Rams; the toddler’s mother, Hera McLeod; and Ms. McLeod’s sister.

Criminal charges (later dismissed) were brought against two women with spotless backgrounds, while a man — then acknowledged by authorities to be a “person of interest” in several police inquiries (including the 2003 murder of an ex-girlfriend) — was given a pass even as he admitted to shady, possibly illegal, activity. An attorney for Mr. Rams did not respond to requests for comment, but a Web site started by Mr. Rams prior to his arrest proclaims his innocence in Prince’s death and notes there is “no evidence” he had “ANY” part in the death of his ex-girlfriend, Shawn K. Mason, with whom he had a son.

At issue are events in July 2011, when Mr. Rams admitted to secretly recording a sexual encounter with Ms. McLeod’s 19-year-old sister in the basement of the home he shared with Ms. McLeod, who just two weeks earlier had given birth to Prince. Mr. Rams has said that the sex was consensual; the sister said that her participation was coerced. Prince William police — whom Ms. McLeod summoned for help in retrieving belongings from the house — pivoted their attention from whether any sexual crimes had been committed to the actions of the women. Ms. McLeod was charged with obstruction of justice, the sister with filing a false report.

Authorities told us that they take any allegation of a sexual crime seriously and that their actions were right and proper. They said that the tape Mr. Rams told them he had made without the sister’s knowledge contradicted her account and — had it not been uncovered — he would have been wrongly charged with rape. The sister told us that the tape, which she has not watched, could not capture other events of the night, in which she says she was terrorized and threatened to go along with Mr. Rams.

She maintained her innocence regarding the false-report charge and agreed to an arrangement in which the charges were eventually dismissed. Ms. McLeod, an intelligence analyst with a government security clearance, insisted on going to trial on the obstruction charge, which a general district judge summarily dismissed, at one point calling Mr. Rams’s testimony “incredible.”

What is perhaps most unsettling about these events is that they unfolded as Ms. McLeod was before a Montgomery County judge fighting for custody of Prince and pleading that Mr. Rams not be given unsupervised access to their son. We can’t help but wonder, with the benefit of hindsight, whether there might have been a different outcome of the proceedings in Montgomery if Prince William authorities had arrived at different conclusions.