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Subject: Teenager Charged in Death of Boy in Newark

New Jersey
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Date Posted: January 11, 2003 5:28:15 EDT

A teenage cousin of the boy found dead here last weekend in a gruesome child-abuse case has been charged with aggravated assault in the child's death, law enforcement officials said last night.

The authorities said that they had arrested 16-year-old Wesley Murphy, the son of Sherry L. Murphy, who had been charged earlier this week with child endangerment in the case. The body of their cousin Faheem Williams, 7, was found in the locked basement of Ms. Murphy's home last weekend, where two of the boy's brothers were also found, starving and alone.

Mr. Murphy was also charged with child endangerment in the abuse of the two surviving brothers, Raheem, 7, who was Faheem's twin, and Tyrone Hill, 4. Robert K. Rankin, the Newark police director, said that the teenager had been picked up on a street in East Orange by an F.B.I. task force. He is the first person to be charged in the death of the boy.

The case, which has upended the state's child welfare agency, involves an extended family that has lived together, off and on, for several years. Ms. Murphy, 41, and the mother of the abused boys, Melinda Williams, are first cousins.

The arrest of Mr. Murphy brings the third set of charges to grow out of an investigation that began last Saturday with the discovery of Faheem's body in a storage bin in the basement and his brothers cowering in another squalid cellar room without adequate food and water.

On Wednesday, the police arrested a family friend, Joseph Reese, 45, and charged him with sexually assaulting one of Ms. Williams's sons. Investigators said the abuse took place when the extended family was living together in Irvington, N.J.

Ms. Murphy, who eluded a four-day dragnet that involved federal agents, was arrested Thursday in the basement of a Newark man she had met on the street. The man, Jean-Claude Dessources, turned her in after seeing her face flashed on the evening news.

On Friday she pleaded not guilty to endangerment charges and was being held without bail at the Essex County Jail.

The police said that their attention was drawn to the teenager after questioning Ms. Williams's sons. The youth was picked up on a street in East Orange after six days on the run. During a news conference early this morning, Mayor Sharpe James of Newark suggested that the suspect implicated himself during questioning.

"The details he provided in connection with the death of 7-year-old Faheem Williams led local authorities to immediately arrest him and charge him," he said. Lieutenant David Wood, the chief of homicide, said further charges against the teenager, including those of murder, were possible. "The investigation is ongoing," he said.

Although the body of Faheem was found in a duplex apartment on Parker Street in North Newark, the police believe he had been dead for more than a month and may have been killed before the family moved from its home in Irvington at the end of November. Preliminary autopsy results showed that he had died of starvation and blunt force injury to the stomach.

Reached by telephone last night, Dwayne Thomas, an uncle who is caring for Ms. Murphy's three other under-age children, said he did not know his nephew had been arrested.

Rammatha Gaddie, an aunt of Ms. Williams's, was stunned to hear about the arrest. "Oh God, it's a shock after a shock," she said.

Meanwhile, in family court on Friday, the state's Division of Youth and Family Services initiated proceedings to terminate the parental rights of Ms. Murphy, who has five children, ages 8 to 18. Officials have not accused her of mistreating those children.

A day after being hospitalized with complaints of dizziness and high blood pressure, Ms. Murphy was well enough on Friday to be questioned in the death of Faheem and the abuse of his brothers. Law enforcement officials say that the boys, their bodies bearing burn marks, had been left to wallow in their own filth.

A lawyer for Ms. Williams, Ron Schwartz, said his client had been questioned twice by homicide detectives in recent days. He said that Ms. Murphy was trying to blame his client for the death of Faheem.

Investigators involved in the questioning of Ms. Murphy said they were trying to square her account with Ms. Williams's. "Sherry Murphy is only one piece of the puzzle," said Lieutenant Derek Glenn, a police spokesman.

Ms. Williams has told detectives that she left the boys in her cousin's care while serving time for the abuse of another child. When she got out of jail, she told them, she was unable to find either Ms. Murphy or her own children.

Ms. Williams, 30, has been hospitalized since last Saturday, when she was struck by a car while crossing a street in the Bronx.

During a bedside interview, Ms. Williams told detectives she was hit while on her way to Newark after learning about the discovery of her sons, officials said.

But Ms. Gaddie contradicted that account. "There's no way she could have known because I got the call about the kids and the next thing I knew Melinda was in the hospital," she said in an interview on Friday.

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