November 9, 2013

A DECADE AFTER a 22-year-old Manassas woman was found fatally shot, the ex-boyfriend police long considered a suspect was charged with her murder. Whether Joaquin S. Rams is responsible for the death of Shawn Katrina Mason is a question that will be decided in court. But there are other questions that need to be addressed by authorities in Virginia and Maryland who came into contact with Mr. Rams.

Could they have shown more diligence or urgency in investigations of Mr. Rams? Why wasn’t more heed paid to warnings about him? And could there have been a different outcome for the 15-month-old son Mr. Rams is accused of killing more than 10 years after Ms. Mason’s death?

A Prince William grand jury Monday indicted Mr. Rams on murder and other charges in the March 2003 death of Ms. Mason. Mr. Rams already is awaiting trial on capital murder in connection with the October 2012 death of his 15-month-old son, Prince McLeod Rams, in a case that has come to highlight concerns about how family court protects children. Prosecutors say Mr. Rams drowned the toddler during a court-ordered unsupervised visit opposed by his mother. His alleged motive was more than $500,000 he had taken out in life insurance on the boy. Insurance was also cited as a possible motive in Ms. Mason’s death and a grand jury has reopened an investigation into the 2008 death of Mr. Rams’s mother that was ruled a suicide. Attorneys for Mr. Rams, who has pleaded innocent in the case involving his son, declined comment.

“It doesn’t feel like true justice when it ends up that justice can only be served at the expense of an innocent child,” Hera McLeod, Prince’s mother, said of the indictment that came too late to help her son. Her anguish is understandable. As she was waging a desperate battle in Montgomery County Circuit Court during the spring and summer of 2012 with Mr. Rams over custody and visits, she got little help — was even at odds — with authorities. Virginia officials didn’t heed her call to take action against Mr. Rams; most in­cred­ibly, as we have written before, they chose to make her subject of questionable prosecution in a case involving Mr. Rams (charges were dismissed at trial.). Citing the absence of charges against Mr. Rams, a Montgomery County judge dismissed as “a lot of smoke” the troubling issues that surrounded him during proceedings that exposed weaknesses in a system that should safeguard children.

Prince William Commonwealth Attorney Paul B. Ebert defended his office’s actions and stressed the complexities of investigations. He told The Post’s Jeremy Borden that the crimes that Mr. Rams allegedly committed are “extremely cold and unusual.” No doubt Mr. Ebert is correct about the difficulties, and he should be credited for the attention now being paid to these events. But it’s hard not to ask at what price.