A suburban Detroit couple whose baby died after eating a morphine pill is facing child-abuse charges stemming from their allegedly messy home, which authorities believe led to the infant’s death.
Prosecutors say Harold and Kimberly Murphy committed a “reckless act” by keeping an extremely untidy house that allowed their 11-month-old daughter, Trinity, to eat a pill intended for the child’s grandmother in October 2013.
The grandma, who took morphine pills prescribed for pain associated with her cancer, lived at the family’s Sterling Heights, Michigan, home and died two weeks earlier. She likely dropped the prescription pill on the floor, Kimberly Murphy told cops at the time Trinity became sick.
Now a judge will decide whether to dismiss the case against the parents, who are facing up to 10 years in prison.
“The reckless act is that their house is a pigsty,” assistant Macomb County prosecutor Yasmine Poles said in court Wednesday, according to the Macomb Daily. “It’s a reckless act because their child is dead. They were supposed to make sure the child was not given access to the room where the grandmother died in.”
Defense attorneys, however, say it’s unclear how Trinity ingested the morphine. No loose pills were found. No one saw Trinity receive or consume a pill. The grandmother’s medication was discovered on a shelf inside a closet.
Harold’s lawyer, William Ford, told The Daily Beast there’s no evidence the condition of the Murphys’ home caused the baby’s death.
“We don’t know how the baby got the medicine,” he said. “If we don’t know how the baby got the medicine, how can we say the condition of the house had anything to do with it?”
Instead, he claimed, the parents are victims of being “poor.”
“Nobody wants a child to die. Nobody wants to see a child hurt. But don’t use the law as a sword when it’s not appropriate,” Ford told The Daily Beast.
“This case is going forward because … they’re looking for someone to blame,” he added. “These parents have been through enough.”
The prosecutor’s office declined to comment when reached by The Daily Beast.
Harold, 42, is a laborer, while Kimberly, 38, is a church pastor. Neither of them was home when Trinity got sick. Their teenage son was watching her and called police when he saw something was wrong, Ford said.
The infant later died at a hospital, and an autopsy revealed the presence of morphine, Ford said.
The Murphys don’t have criminal records. Still, their four other children were taken away by the state after Trinity died.
Police allegedly found their home in disarray, along with an illegal electrical hookup. Ford said the family was in the process of moving because “they didn’t want to stay [in the home] after grandma died.”
“[Officers] said there were pots on the stove, clothing put in storage bags, not folded, things like that,” Ford told The Daily Beast. “There were mattresses taken off the bed and stood up. The family was moving out.”
Prior to that, Child Protective Services was involved with the couple several times after a school complained their children wore dirty clothes to school, but they were never charged with anything, Ford said.
In court, Poles said CPS officials noted the house was “filthy.”
“Children can’t live like this,” Poles said in court. “It does show a state of mind of the defendants. This is years of leading up to the death of Trinity Murphy. Every one of those acts is reckless.”
Attorneys argued the prosecution’s evidence against the Murphys was circumstantial, and Judge James Biernat Jr. agreed, according to the Macomb Daily. Biernat is expected to announce his decision next month.
“They’ve got my client fighting the worst kind of case,” Ford told The Daily Beast. “People don’t like being accused of being unkempt. It creates a prejudicial environment that’s ripe for a miscarriage of justice to occur.”