On Oct. 20, 2012, my 15-month-old son’s father killed him to get more than $500,000 in life insurance. On April 13, Joaquin Rams finally was convicted of capital murder in Prince William County.
While I felt an overwhelming sense of relief as I heard Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows announce that Rams would never again walk free, I also was aware that full justice hadn’t been served that day.
That day wasn’t just about justice for Prince; it was about obtaining a piece of justice and peace for all of us.
When Bellows announced his verdict after more than two hours of thorough explanation, the courtroom erupted. There were tears of joy, and family and friends hugged me.
Rams showed no emotion, which I found odd given the theatrics he displayed while I was testifying the week before. During my testimony, he couldn’t seem to stop himself from making audible grunting noises and fidgeting in his seat, but after conviction his stone face was disturbing.
There was a palpable joy in the halls as we walked out of the courtroom, but I couldn’t shake a feeling of overwhelming sadness. I wanted more than anything to walk out of that courthouse with my son, and I have always known that was never a possible outcome. Instead, I left the court knowing what I knew before my son was killed: Joaquin Rams was dangerous.
I fear that Rams’s conviction will give authorities in Maryland and Virginia the false sense that their work is done. The conviction of my son’s killer doesn’t absolve the family courts of their mistakes. Rams didn’t just snap one day and kill a toddler. He used our broken family court system to assist in this murder. Prince was only 3 months old when he had a $500,000 bounty on his head. Rams entered family court and posed as a loving father who just wanted to be a part of his son’s life.
I pleaded with family court that Rams not have unsupervised access to Prince, but my requests were denied.
When it comes to ensuring the safety of children, family court judges often rely on the standards of criminal courts instead of what is proper in civil court. Because family court is civil court, protective parents should not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the other parent is dangerous. Children have a fundamental right to safety, and it is the job of the family courts to protect that right. Parents do not have a right to be a parent; parenting is a privilege that abusers should lose.
Many will look at my family court case and shrug it off as an extreme scenario, but what happened to me happens across America. My son suffered one of the worst consequences of this failed system, but other children are forced to live with abusers.
Instead of simply being relieved and happy, we should now turn our attention to this system. We must choose to do better because the children who come after my son deserve nothing less.
I am grateful to Bellows for his professionalism, intelligence and ability to sift through the complicated details of this murder case. The attention and care he gave to this case should be held up as the model of what should happen in criminal court. When the attorneys weren’t asking the right questions, Bellows wasn’t afraid to get the answers he needed to make his decision. Several authorities failed Prince alon g the way, but Bellows did not.
In the past four years, I often thought that my son was sent here to be a warrior and save the lives of many. He was only 19 pounds when he died, but he was the only person finally able to put Rams away for life.
And I won’t stop fighting. I will continue shining a light on the fundamental flaws of our system because no parent should ever have to live through what I have, and no child should suffer the same fate as my son.
Read more about this issue:
The Post’s View: Taking women seriously in abuse cases
The Post’s View: The cost of the slow investigations of Joaquin S. Rams
The Post’s View: Death of a toddler raises questions in Montgomery, Pr. William
The Post’s View: Montgomery court system failed Prince McLeod Rams