How, exactly, did former foster mother Michelle Morris-Kerin’s lack of action kill the sick child in her care?
Riverside Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer wrestled with that question during a hearing Tuesday, Jan. 25. After reading through much of the 1,700-page grand jury transcript — which is still under seal — the judge told both sides to get back to him in writing on five specific points tied to the prosecution’s theory of “implied malice murder.”
Morris-Kerin faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of foster child Diane Ramirez, who spent an agonizing night in the Murrieta home moaning and vomiting blood. Despite specific instructions to get the girl to the emergency room if that happened, Morris insisted the girl would be fine, according to an investigation of the incident. Ramirez died on April 6, 2019. She was 17.
Morris-Kerin, 80, and her husband Lawrence Kerin, 79, are also accused of “willfully, unlawfully, and lewdly” committing lascivious acts upon adult dependents for their own sexual gratification, according to the grand jury indictment.
“One might review entire transcript and say there is evidence of criminal negligence that’s presented — a significant amount of evidence of criminal negligence,” Freer said. “But one of the other elements to even a manslaughter charge is that … an act somebody does has to be detailed as a cause of death. Was their action a substantial factor in the cause of death?”
The judge asked both the prosecution and defense to brief him on these specific questions:
Did the prosecution present sufficient evidence to the grand jury that Morris-Kerin’s delay in calling 911 was a substantial cause of Ramirez’s death, as opposed to simply being a contributing cause?
What evidence was presented, if any, regarding the point at which it was too late to save Ramirez’s life?
Did the district attorney mislead unintentionally, or potentially confuse, the grand jury by implying that the failure to call 911 was the substantial cause of death?
Are there any similar published cases in which the failure to call 911 by a mandated reporter equates to implied malice murder, when there were other mandated reporters who failed to call 911 as well?
Freer also asked the prosecutors to elaborate on the theory of implied malice murder. Was the act the simple failure to call 911 at the earliest possible opportunity? Was it the failure to call 911 after the second or third report that the child wasn’t doing well? Was it Morris-Kerin not telling the caretakers working in her home that the girl had been previously hospitalized? And how does that impact the prosecution’s theory for implied malice murder?
Both sides are due back in court in March, pending COVID-19 complications.
Morris-Kerin began her foster career in Orange County in the mid-1990s, caring for profoundly disabled children. She quickly clashed with officials who asserted she suffered from Munchausen by proxy, a behavior disorder in which caretakers exaggerate children’s health problems and subject them to unnecessary or inappropriate medical treatment, according to records.
She adopted many of the disabled children in her care, including Ryan Morris, over the objections of his biological family in San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente. Ryan Morris who has the intellectual capacity of a kindergartner, was allowed to marry a man 18 years his senior despite allegations that he didn’t understand the concept of marriage.
In May 2019, one month after Ramirez’s death, Morris-Kerin surrendered the license to the group foster home in Murrieta.
Source: Orange County Register