A Manassas man now faces life in prison, after a judge found him guilty of murdering his 15-month-old son as part of scheme to collect more than $524,000 in life insurance money.
Joaquin Shadow Rams, Sr., 44, is guilty of charges of capital murder and attempted false pretenses for trying to commit insurance fraud, following a 12-day trial and years of legal maneuvering after Prince McLeod Rams’ death in October 2012. Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows announced the ruling April 13.
County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert decided not to seek the death penalty in the case earlier this year, but Bellows’ ruling on the capital murder charge means Rams now automatically will receive a life sentence. Both sides previously agreed to forego a jury trial in favor of letting Bellows decide the case, giving the final say to the Fairfax judge after Prince William Circuit Court Judge Craig Johnston stepped away from the proceedings.
“There was only one cause of financial optimism for the defendant, and that was killing his son,” Bellows said while delivering the verdict, a process that took nearly three and a half hours.
Bellows was convinced by arguments from county prosecutors that Rams plotted to murder his youngest son to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from three separate life insurance policies he secured for his son months in advance of the boy’s death at a Manassas home. The 15-month-old was staying with his father as part of an unsupervised visit through a child custody arrangement when Rams called 911 to report that the toddler was unresponsive. The boy was taken to two different hospitals, but ultimately pronounced dead Oct. 21, 2012.
Rams and his attorneys long claimed that the toddler died as a result of a seizure, or some other natural cause, since the boy suffered several seizures in the months leading up to his death. State medical examiners initially found that the boy drowned, only to ultimately rule his cause of death as “undetermined,” with drowning or suffocation remaining possibilities.
Bellows suggested that the evidence was unclear as to how exactly the boy died, but he did find that “Prince’s oxygen supply was cut off,” causing his death. He found that the “evidence was simply overwhelming” that a seizure could not have caused the toddler’s death, and that Rams had ample time alone with his son to drown or otherwise suffocate him before calling for help.
“These prior seizures gave the defendant an alibi,” Bellows said. “It was the solution to a problem...after the defendant put a bounty on the head of his son.”
The judge also believes that Rams’ finances provide a clear motive for the killing. In the three years leading up to the boy’s death, Bellows noted that the “trajectory of (Rams’) finances were in a downward spiral,” and he was “spending money almost as fast as he obtained it.”
Rams had even decided to move out of his Bristow home, in order to rent it out and make his mortgage payments, Bellows said. Yet just the day after the toddler suffered one of his seizures on Sept. 22, 2012, Rams told his realtor via text message that he was planning on moving back home.
He later even told the realtor that he was buying new appliances and re-painting his home, even though his financial situation was “just as bleak as before,” Bellows said.
“The timing of these text messages suggest a connection between these seizures and the defendant’s financial optimism,” Bellows said.
Bellows also found Rams’ decision to take out three separate insurance policies on the boy’s life highly suspicious, noting that “by going to three different companies he prevented any from knowing about the size of the policies on Prince’s life.” Rams also made a series of false claims in applications for those policies, like alleging that the boy’s mother was dead in order to avoid telling her about his plans to take out the insurance.
Though Rams’ attorneys argued that he was simply a “naive and unsophisticated consumer” in taking out these policies, Bellows dismissed those claims, finding that Rams’ actions were clearly “pre-meditated” and contingent upon his son’s untimely death.
“Why would he never tell the mother of his child about the sacrifices he was making, paying the premiums on these policies?” Bellows said. “What could have possibly led the defendant to conclude he needed all these policies on Prince’s life?”
Prosecutors also previously charged Rams in the 2003 shooting death of the mother of his oldest son, Shawn Mason of Manassas, but ultimately chose not to pursue that case.
Rams is now set to be formally sentenced on June 22 in Prince William County Circuit Court.