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Three indicted in N.J. child abuse case

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NEWARK, New Jersey (CNN) -- A grand jury indicted a teenager on manslaughter charges Thursday in the death of his 7-year-old cousin, whose starved, beaten body was discovered in a Newark basement in January.

Two others, including the teenage suspect's mother, were indicted on charges related to the case.

Wesley Murphy, 17, was accused of causing the death of Faheem Williams, whose body was found stashed in a plastic bin after his two brothers were discovered nearby in the basement of the Murphy home, alive but emaciated.

Murphy's mother, Sherry Murphy, 42, was charged with endangering the welfare of Faheem Williams, but was not charged in his death.

She also was charged with kidnapping, attempted murder and aggravated assault of the two boys found with Faheem, his twin and the twins' 4-year-old brother, who were also in her care.

Family friend Joseph Reese, 45, was indicted on charges of sexually assaulting Faheem's twin brother while living with Melinda Williams, the twins' mother.

Prosecutor Paula Dow said at a news conference that the three were indicted "for their egregious conduct connected to these children."

The case brought national attention to New Jersey's embattled Division of Youth and Family Services.

Sherry Murphy was supposed to have been taking care of the children while their mother -- her cousin -- was in jail on assault charges. She could be sentenced to 180 years in prison if found guilty on all counts.

Reese, of Orange, also was indicted on charges of endangering the welfare of a child. He could be sentenced to 20 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Besides the manslaughter charges, Wesley Murphy was indicted on charges of aggravated assault and endangering the welfare of a child. If found guilty on all charges, he could be sentenced to 45 years in prison.

His attorney, Pat Rivera, expressed surprise at the charges.

"I am totally shocked that they believe they can prove murder against this young man, that he killed this child," she told reporters. "All of their statements say he was playing. That's their own statements that they say their detectives took from him."

Rivera placed blame on Wesley's mother.

"Sherry Murphy may be the right culprit, but Wesley Murphy is not," she said. "He is a 16-year-old child living in a house with this woman, a go-go dancer, who didn't feed three kids. How is he responsible? He should not be in this indictment."

Public outrage over the death of Faheem prompted New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey to order an overhaul of the Division of Youth and Family Services.

In June, the division agreed to a settlement of a lawsuit filed by an advocacy group, Children's Rights Inc. The agency will work closely with independent experts to reform the child welfare system.

Clarence Jackson, Melinda Williams' cousin, expressed mixed feelings about the indictments.

"I'm happy that progress is being made, but it's not the progress that I want, because Sherry is not being held accountable for Faheem. She is being held accountable for the living. What about the child that is dead?" Jackson said.

"Sherry is the adult. That was her house, not Wesley's house. She is just as much to blame for Faheem's death, if not more."

Jackson has custody of Melinda Williams' oldest son. He is also fighting for custody of the brothers found with Faheem.

Wesley Murphy, Sherry Murphy and Reese are being held in New Jersey jails. Melinda Williams is in prison on an unrelated charged.

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