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The Fraud Report

MD Toddler Dies, Father is Subject to Fraud Investigation

by FraudReport 12. April 2017 11:54

In October of 2012, a 15 month old named Prince McLeod Rams passed away during a visit to his father’s house. On March 13th, the trial began to decide whether the toddler died a natural death or, as prosecutors argue, was killed by his father for a life insurance payout.

According to the Washington Post, the verdict will be rendered by a judge, rather than a jury. Four years after Joaquin S. Rams, the father, was arrested, the defense got a major victory after prosecutors withdrew the death penalty from the case. In exchange, the defense agreed to waive a jury trial and have the case decided by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy I. Bellows, a former federal prosecutor who is said to be one of the toughest sentencing judges in the county.

Bellows will learn that Rams was suspected (but not charged) in the 2003 shooting death of his ex-girlfriend and in the 2008 asphyxiation of his mother (ruled a suicide). He will also know that both women had life insurance policies, one that Rams did not collect and one that he did, for $162,000. Though that is all evidence that the judge can’t take into account because it had already been ruled inadmissible for a jury.

Prosecutors say their case will take less than a week to present, and is predicted to be over by early April.

This case began on October 20, 2012, when paramedics were summoned to Rams’ home in Manassas City, VA, for an unresponsive child. Once there, the paramedics found Prince wrapped in a towel on the floor, naked, wet and not breathing. The toddler was rushed to the hospital, but records show he wasn’t revived for 40 minutes. He was flown to another hospital and placed on life support, but died the next day.

“I did not harm my son,” Rams said in a written statement in 2013, after he’d been charged with murder. “It breaks my heart to think that anyone would believe that I did. I’m still shocked to learn how sick Prince was.” He has pleaded not guilty, and defense lawyers declined to say whether he would testify in his own defense.

Prince’s mother, Hera McLeod, said in 2013, “Either he’s the most unlucky person around, or he’s a serial killer.”

During his short life, Prince became the subject of a heated custody battle, starting soon after his birth; his mother pled with a judge not to allow Prince’s father near him. After the toddler’s death, a VA medical examiner ruled that Prince had drowned, though a year later that finding was reversed; the official cause of death is now “undetermined.”

Of course, prosecutors plan to stick with their theory that Rams drowned his son. On the other side, Rams’ attorneys have experts that will say the boy didn’t drown, but that the series of six febrile seizures he suffered in the months before his death were a more likely contributor. They also have three witnesses who say that Rams did not drown his son.

The other part of the prosecution’s case is their theory that Rams was having financial problems and killed his son to collect insurance money. What Bellows will hear in evidence is that Rams took out $524,000 in life insurance policies on Prince shortly after he was born in 2011. Rams’s attorneys claim that he intended to take out a policy only on himself but was persuaded to add policies for his children as college savings vehicles.

Prosecutors will also tell the backstory of Joaquin Rams, 44, who has spent the last four years in the Prince William jail, and show that his character does present a man who would kill his son. Though the actual amount that will be admissible is unclear, and Bellows cannot take those facts into consideration, even if he is aware of them.

Rams was born with the name John Anthony Ramirez in 1972, though he has often used 1977 as a birth year, causing prosecutors to charge him with multiple counts of fraud. In 1999, his first son, Joaquin Shadow Rams Jr., was born to Rams’s girlfriend Shawn K. Mason. Three years later in 2002, Rams formally changed his name to Joaquin Shadow Rams.

Mason and Rams eventually broke up, and Rams was granted custody of his son. In March 2003, Rams was spotted breaking into Mason’s house, and police found her body with a shot to the head. Rams told Manassas City police that he was concerned because he hadn’t heard from her lately, and police said he cooperated with the investigation. Mason had a $142,000 life insurance policy, which prosecutors say Rams tried to collect, though their son Joaquin Jr. was the beneficiary and the money was placed in a trust.

Five years later, Rams’ mother, Alma Collins, was found asphyxiated at her home with a plastic bag around her head and a suicide note by her side. The medical examiner ruled the death a suicide and police agreed; Rams collected $162,000.

Prince William prosecutors wanted to use both of these cases in the murder trial, but the 2014 judge at the time rejected the idea.

Court records show that two weeks after Prince’s birth, Rams slept with McLeod’s younger sister. McLeod took Prince and left, which set off the custody battle in Montgomery County. McLeod’s attorneys used Rams’ past as part of the evidence they showed. This included his launching of an “adults online” nude modeling website and his apparent lack of steady employment. McLeod was granted sole custody of Prince in March 2012, and Rams was allowed supervised visits. He was later granted unsupervised visits every other Saturday in August of 2012. Defense records show that on one of those visits in September 2012, Prince had a febrile seizure, followed by three more seizures in the next 24 hours. Within the next few weeks, Prince had two more febrile seizures, which experts said could be an indication of a more serious condition.

On Oct. 20, 2012, Rams says Prince had another seizure in his crib, next to Joaquin Rams Jr., who was 13 at the time. Rams told police that he rushed Prince to the bathtub to splash water on him and lower his temperature. However, Joaquin Jr. told prosecutors in May 2013 that he followed his father to the bathroom and watched this, and that there was no water in the tub because there was no stopper. Joaquin Jr. said he ran to housemate Roger Jestice to tell him to call 911. Both then returned to the bathroom and saw Rams splashing water on the boy. “Was there any water in the tub at all?” prosecutor Sandy Sylvester asked the teen. “No,” Joaquin Jr. replied. “From when my dad brought him into the tub there was no water in it . . . because the plug wasn’t there.”

Roger Jestice and his wife, Sue, gave similar accounts. Still, Prince William prosecutors put together a grand jury to investigate Rams, and they later indicted him on capital murder charges.

At least four people that were inmates with Rams testified to the grand jury, and at least two are expected to testify at trial. If convicted, Rams would face life without parole.

The closing arguments in the trial were recently given, ending 11 days of testimony from 35 witnesses and over 1,000 pages of evidence for Bellows to review.

After Prince’s manner of death was labeled as “undetermined,” both sides rushed to analyze the case, with prosecutors suggesting Prince had suffocated rather than drowned.

It was a suggestion that Bellows questioned witnesses about, comparing their version of events with Rams’. Rams had said he put Prince in a bathtub to splash cold water on him because he was warm. Paramedics reported that the boy was cold to the touch and had no heartbeat when they arrived. His body temperature was 91.2 when he was tested 24 minutes after the 911 call. Medical experts testified that a person couldn’t be having seizure-like movements while also in cardiac arrest.

“The Commonwealth does not have to prove a cause of death,” Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney James Willett said after the final witness. Though he said in his opening statement that evidence would show Prince was drowned, Willett noted that, “Anything I say in opening is of no evidentiary value…We are not bound by a particular theory.”

In his closing argument, Willett said “This is a circumstantial case,” and then laid out the circumstances.

He noted that Rams had no reported income from 2005 to 2012, and that he was defaulting on a home mortgage, a line of credit and a private school tuition bill. In 2011, Rams applied for three insurance policies on Prince totaling $524,000 just as the $162,000 in benefits from his mother’s life insurance policy were exhausted, Willett said, though Rams didn’t have custody of the boy. The theory is that Rams killed his son because he was heavily in debt and intended to use the insurance proceeds to pay his debts. Rams also applied for and received policies on himself and his teenage son, which his attorneys said were intended as savings vehicles for college.

He added, “The irresistible conclusion in this case, given all the circumstances, is that the defendant is guilty of capital murder.”

Defense lawyer Tracey Lenox said prosecutors were asking the judge “to disregard the testimony of every person who actually witnessed what happened.” Lenox said Rams Jr testified that they repeatedly saw Prince, his father and his brother while they were upstairs. They also said that Prince was snoring when  his father brought him to a crib, and he also with no blood or water on him. A blood-tinged stain was found in Prince’s crib, which the defense said was consistent with pulmonary edema after cardiac arrest.

From the time Jestice made the 911 call, Lenox said Rams did not have an opportunity to kill his son. She noted that four defense experts said it was not unusual to see children with cold body temperatures when they arrive at the emergency room.

Bellows said he would issue his verdict on April 13th.

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