Diane Ramírez (courtesy Ángel Cadena Ramirez)
The woman who presided over a controversial foster home for severely disabled children has been charged with multiple felonies — including murder — and her husband has been charged with lewd conduct and willful harm to a child, according to jail records and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
A Riverside County criminal grand jury returned a 14-count indictment last week against Michelle Morris Kerin, 80, and her husband, Edward Lawrence “Larry” Kerin, 79, who ran the now-shuttered Morris Small Family Home near Murrieta. The indictment was unsealed on Monday, Aug. 9.
Michelle Morris, as she is known, faces a second-degree murder charge for the death of foster child Diane Ramirez, who spent an agonizing night in the group home, moaning and vomiting blood. Despite specific instructions to get the girl to the emergency room if that happened, Morris said the girl would be fine, according to a state report. Ramirez died on April 6, 2019. She was 17.
Only Morris faces the murder charge; husband Kerin does not. Instead, he faces child neglect charges related to Ramirez’s death.
An investigation found what’s alleged to be years of physical abuse and neglect of dependent children and adults, along with sexual abuse against three dependent adults who had been placed in the home, the District Attorney’s Office said.
“Some of the adult dependent residents were found to lack the mental capacity to give consent but engaged in sexual activities facilitated and encouraged by both defendants,” the office said in a press release.
The owners of Morris Small Family Home have been indicted by a grand jury on 14 counts. Michelle Morris Kerin has been charged w/murder for the death of Diane “Princess” Ramirez, 17. Edward Lawrence Kerin is charged w/child neglect of Diane. News release: https://t.co/lulq9Xv4P3 pic.twitter.com/seHjDnyZfZ
— Riverside County DA’s Office (@RivCoDA) August 9, 2021
Many of the victims could not speak or walk and required around-the-clock care, but the facility was not properly staffed for 24-hour care and medical records were not properly maintained, the D.A.’s Office said.
The criminal indictment includes charges of child and dependent adult endangerment likely to cause great bodily injury or death. Morris and Kerin each face two counts of lewd acts on a dependent adult, involving two separate victims. Morris faces another count of lewd acts on a dependent adult, involving a third victim, said county spokesman John Hall.
This 2002 file photo shows Larry Kerin with Vicky, one of the special needs children that he and his wife Michelle Morris adopted over the years. Andy Templeton / Photo For Orange County Register
Morris was set to be arraigned Monday in Murrieta, but it was continued to Wednesday, Aug. 12. She remains in custody on $1 million bail. Kerin posted bail on on Sunday and is slated to be arraigned in December.
The Riverside County Public Defender’s Office is representing Morris, but did not return a request for comment. Kerin did not return a phone call left at the couple’s Calle Bandido home.
“Princess” Diane’s mother, Angel Cadena, said she was flooded with conflicting emotions on hearing that Morris and Kerin were taken away in handcuffs.
“It doesn’t bring her back. That’s the worst part of it,” Cadena said. “My Diane had to pass away, but all of this wrongdoing is finally coming to light. She’s a hero.”
Morris began her operation in Orange County in the 1990s, caring for fragile, nonverbal, wheelchair-bound children, and quickly clashed with officials who asserted that she suffered from Munchausen by proxy, a behavior disorder in which caretakers exaggerate children’s health problems to gain attention and sympathy and subject them to unnecessary or inappropriate medical treatment, according to records.
Morris sued, accusing officials of slander, defamation and violations of child-abuse reporting laws. The agency’s insurer settled the case for $750,000 with no admission of wrongdoing, rather than face a jury trial where disabled children would have to take the stand. In 2007, Morris moved to Riverside County to, in her words, escape “persecution.”
Morris surrendered her license in May 2019, shortly after Diane’s death, and the foster home closed down.
Ryan Morris — one of the disabled foster children she adopted, over the vehement objections of his biological family — went with her. Despite having the intellectual capacity of a kindergartner, and on Morris’ watch, Ryan Morris married a man in a formal ceremony in Morris’ backyard in 2014. Ryan Morris mistook the ceremony for a baptism, and a court review said he does not have the capacity to consent to marriage and an intimate relationship.
Ryan Morris’s biological family has been fighting for legal guardianship of him for years, saying he has been sexually abused on Morris’ watch.
For Ryan Morris’ biological family members, the indictment validated what they’ve been saying about the Morris operation for more than 20 years.
“I pray that all the children and their families who have suffered for so long, especially Diane’s parents and brother, can have more peace in knowing about this decision,” Monica Mukai, Ryan Morris’s aunt, said by email. “Ryan!!! Ryan!!! We love you and always have! And we want the best for you in the years to come with exceptional services as the miracle and wonderful young man that you are, having suffered almost all your life! God has got this and justice will be served.”
Ryan Morris, right, and husband Sean Spicer, at their wedding in 2014., Spicer became Morris’ legal guardian. (Photo courtesy probate court file)
The decades worth of complaints and controversy about the Morris home make it hard for Cadena to fathom why social workers continued to place vulnerable people there.
“They knew about all these allegations, but they still put my daughter there, in that home,” she said.
Diane had told social workers she was unhappy, and the county had actually concluded that the Morris placement “failed to meet the child’s needs” and recommended that Diane be moved. But that never happened.
An investigation by the state Department of Social Services concluded that the Morris foster home neglected to obtain emergency medical care in a timely manner, which posed an immediate risk to the children placed in care. Morris surrendered her license shortly afterward, but Riverside County effectively signed Diane Ramirez’s death warrant by placing her in a foster home dogged by decades of complaints, charge Cadena and Alberto Ramirez, Diane’s father, in a lawsuit filed against Morris and the county last year seeking at least $25 million.
Charles Krolikowski, an attorney with Newmeyer Dillion in Newport Beach, is representing Ramirez’s parents. He also represents Ryan Morris’ identical twin brother in the biological family’s battle to gain guardianship over Ryan Morris.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Krolikowski said of the indictment. “This has always been about justice, about holding someone accountable.”
Anyone with information on this case, or who may have been a victim, should contact D.A. Investigator Tom Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally Appeared Here