The mother of a 7-year-old boy whose mummified remains were found in the basement of an apartment will not receive a $1 million payout from the state, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
Melinda Williams has no right to inherit the money from Faheem Williams because she abused and neglected him and his two brothers, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey found in a 3-0 decision that upheld a lower court ruling.
Melinda Williams had sought Faheem's $1 million share of a $7.5 million settlement paid by New Jersey in 2006 amid charges of failures by its Division of Youth and Family Services. Instead, all the money will go to care for the surviving boys, who are in foster care.
The brothers, Faheem's twin Raheem Williams, and 4-year-old Tyrone Hill Jr., were found starving and clad in clothes soaked in urine and feces in a locked room adjacent to where the corpse was found.
Melinda Williams had entrusted the three boys to a cousin, Sherry L. Murphy, so she could serve a jail term. She was freed and living in New York when Faheem died after being injured by Murphy's teenage son.
Authorities never charged Melinda Williams with mistreating her children, but records show she repeatedly ignored agreements with DYFS to improve her parenting. The surviving boys also told caseworkers that Melinda Williams abused them, including by burning them with cigarettes.
"How cruel, ironic, and inequitable it would be to hold that M.W. retained the right to inherit $1 million from the child she burned, abused, neglected, and abandoned," Appellate Judge Donald G. Collester wrote for the court. "Equity, morality, and common sense dictate that physically or sexually abusive parents have no right of inheritance ..."
'A just and fair outcome'
The appellate court also upheld a 2006 ruling terminating Williams' parental rights to all three children.
A lawyer for Melinda Williams did not return a message seeking comment.
"The decision was a just and fair outcome for the children," said Lee Moore, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office.
In court filings, Williams said she should get Faheem's share of the settlement because DYFS was negligent in protecting the children while they were with Murphy.
A DYFS spokesman had no immediate comment on the ruling.
DYFS was overhauled amid outrage when it was learned that the child protection agency had investigated abuse complaints involving Williams but closed the file 11 months before Faheem's body was found in January 2003 in the basement of an apartment rented by Murphy.
Murphy's son, Wesley, admitted performing a wrestling move on Faheem that included forcefully driving his knee into the child's abdomen and led to his death. He pleaded guilty to reckless manslaughter and was sentenced to three years in prison; he has since served his time.
Sherry Murphy was sentenced in 2005 to 25 years in prison for her treatment of the surviving children. A charge of attempted murder was dropped in a plea deal in which she admitted hiding Faheem's body.