The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

December 3, 2012

Toddler’s death prompts review of 2 other deaths

MANASSAS, Va. — A toddler’s death during a visit with his father last month in Virginia is prompting police to also more closely investigate the suicide of the man’s mother and the shooting death of a onetime girlfriend in the past decade.

Fifteen-month-old Prince McLeod Rams died during a three-hour, unsupervised visit with his father, Joaquin S. Rams of Manassas, police said. Manassas Police spokesman Lowell Nevill said that led police to further probe the 2008 suicide of Joaquin Rams’ mother and the 2003 shooting death of his ex-girlfriend Shawn K. Mason.

The boy’s mother, Hera McLeod, said the system failed to protect the boy after she fought vehemently to prevent the unsupervised visits, which were ordered by a judge in Maryland. Authorities have not yet determined how the boy died, and Rams has not been charged with a crime. But McLeod said the unusual confluence of deaths is not easily explained.

“Either he’s the most unlucky bastard on this planet, or he’s a killer,” said McLeod, who fled the relationship with her one-time fiance about two weeks after Prince was born.

Joaquin Rams did not answer calls to his cellphone. His attorney also did not return calls seeking comment.

Hera McLeod said she has been given only a little information about her son’s injuries. But she said the hospital called child protective services because of suspicious injuries, including dried blood in his nose and a bruise on his forehead.

During a custody hearing for Prince Rams in March, investigators testified Joaquin Rams is a suspect in the killing of Mason, 22, who was shot in the head in her Manassas condo in 2003.

In 2008, Rams’ mother, Alma Collins, was found dead. Prince William County Police at the time ruled the death a suicide. While Manassas police say all the investigations remain a high priority, Prince William County police spokesman Jonathan Perok said investigators have so far not found anything to indicate Collins’ death was not a suicide.

But her son Joseph Velez — Joaquin Rams’ half brother — said it makes no sense that his mother would have killed herself and said he has been interviewed by police investigating whether his mother’s death was a homicide.

“My mother in her life never had a history of depression,” Velez said.

He described his half brother as “a monster,” describing how even at age 3, his younger brother attacked him on the head with a hammer he had hidden behind his back as he feigned a request for a kiss. Like Hera McLeod, Velez expressed frustration at police who failed to make a case in the slaying of Shawn Mason.

And Alma Collins’ sister, Elva Caraballo of Tarpon Springs, Fla., said she tried to tell Prince William County police of her suspicions about Collins’ death, but detectives wouldn’t return her phone calls.

The most recent death occurred Oct. 21, when Hera McLeod turned over her young son to Joaquin Rams. Hera McLeod won custody of the boy in Montgomery County, Md., court. But the judge granted Rams visitation — first supervised, and then unsupervised.

McLeod, an intelligence analyst who once was a contestant on the CBS reality competition “The Amazing Race,” said she does not understand why the judge ignored her concerns for her son’s safety, accompanied by evidence of Joaquin Rams’ lack of fitness as a father: his involvement in running an online pornography business; the testimony from the Manassas detective that Rams is a suspect in his ex-girlfriend’s killing; and a sexual encounter between Rams, 40, and a woman who said Rams raped her when she was 19. Rams said it was consensual.

The Associated Press does not identify people who claim to be victims of sexual assault.

In making his custody and visitation rulings, the judge said the suspicions about the deaths of Collins and Mason were no concern to him, describing it as “smoke that’s been blown that I can see through.”

Hera McLeod said she wants to expose what went wrong and led to her son’s death.

“I knew how bad this could get. ... If the laws are not designed to protect children, then they need to be changed,” she wrote about the custody ruling on a blog she maintains. “In my son’s case, it appears as though death was the only threshold for denial of visitation.”

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