Also present in the courtroom Monday were Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert, assistant commonwealth attorneys Teresa Polinske and Sandra R. Sylvester, and Manassas City Detective Michelle L. Merritt. As he emerged from the locked courtroom, Ebert said he couldn’t discuss what was going on inside and that he was sworn to secrecy. Joaquin Rams Jr.’s guardian ad litem, lawyer Lori V. Battistoni, also said she could not comment.
Special grand juries are rare in Prince William, said Rams’s lawyer, former assistant prosecutor Timothy M. Olmstead. This one is unusual for another reason: Rams has already been indicted for murder, and now the three main witnesses who reportedly corroborate his claim of innocence, including his teenage son, have been called to testify. Typically, grand juries only hear from witnesses who support a criminal charge, not from both sides.
“That’s what’s confusing me,” Olmstead said Monday evening. “If their intent is to get an indictment for capital murder (for the premeditated killing of a child), they didn’t need to call those witnesses…I still don’t have any idea what they’re doing.”
But Rams is an unusual client with an extremely unusual past, including not only his son’s death in Manassas City last fall, but two other deaths as well, all with apparent financial incentives.
Rams is accused of drowning his son in order to collect more than $500,000 in life insurance proceeds from policies he’d taken out in 2011. He also was the subject of investigations in the 2003 shooting death of ex-girlfriend Shawn K. Mason, who had a $1 million life insurance policy, and in the 2008 asphyxiation death of his mother, Alma Collins, who had a $240,000 life insurance policy. Mason’s death was ruled a homicide but Manassas City detectives were unable to charge anyone in the case, and they have said that Rams was cooperative. Collins’ death was ruled a suicide, and Prince William County investigators did not suspect foul play.
Rams has said through his lawyers that he did not kill his son, and he has previously said he did not kill Mason or his mother. The $1 million insurance policy on Mason was paid and placed in trust for Joaquin Rams Jr., to collect when he is 18. The $240,000 policy on Collins was collected by Rams, said Hera McLeod, Prince’s mother and Rams’s ex-fiancee.
Rams is being held without bond in the Prince William jail. Manassas City police recently traveled to Florida to reinvestigate the Mason homicide and to get information on the Collins suicide.
Last Oct. 20, while the toddler Prince Rams was visiting his father in Manassas — his mother had custody of the boy — he became unconscious. He was rushed to Prince William County Hospital, and then to Inova Fairfax Hospital, but he never revived. On Oct. 21, he died.
In January, assistant chief medical examiner Constance DiAngelo ruled that Prince died from drowning and Joaquin Rams was arrested. Rams’s attorneys said that Prince had suffered from complex febrile seizures, including four seizures in one 24-hour period the month before he died, and theorized that a seizure led to his death, not drowning.
The three people in the house with Joaquin and Prince Rams were Joaquin Rams Jr. and housemates Roger and Sue Jestice. According to Rams’s lawyers, all three corroborate Rams’s claim that he did not drown his son, that he merely splashed water on him to cool down a high fever until paramedics arrived. Rams Jr. would not comment and the Jestices did not return a call seeking comment about what they were asked or their testimony. The couple apparently stopped cooperating with police after initial interviews and allowing a search of their house when police obtained warrants. But Olmstead said he was expecting to receive copies of their testimony from Prince William prosecutors.
Olmstead said he knew of two other witnesses who had testified: a half-brother and an aunt of Rams, both of whom told the Associated Press last year that they suspected Rams in his mother’s death. Prince William police said Alma Collins left a suicide note, which they would not describe further, but other sources have raised questions about whether she truly wrote it. Olmstead said the grand jury was “almost certainly talking to witnesses about all three events.”
Meanwhile, Olmstead is battling merely to have a conversation with Joaquin Rams Jr., who was formally removed from his father’s custody in March and awarded to Mason’s mother, Cheryl Mason. Olmstead said the teen was sitting next to his sleeping half-brother last fall, playing video games, and will say that his father wasn’t alone with Prince long enough to drown him. But Olmstead hasn’t been able to speak with the youth, although the police and grand jury have had three interviews. “It makes no sense” that child protective services officials are denying him a visit with Joaquin Jr., Olmstead said.
“I think it’s important for people to know,” Olmstead said, “we believe it’s a good thing they’re taking the time to reinvestigate this case and reinterview the witnesses.”
Ebert would not say when the grand jury would finish. The case is set for trial on Aug. 5 and Olmstead said he is prepared to try the case then.
We took a detailed look at this case last month, which you can read here: