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Newark Mayor Holds Press Conference

Aired January 9, 2003 - 10:57   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to get back to that press conference, which we understand is just about to get underway any moment now. This press conference with Mayor Sharpe James of Newark, New Jersey, and we'll get the latest on the sad story of those three children. In fact, here we go now with the mayor.
MAYOR SHARPE JAMES, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: I will give a general briefing, then I'll turn it over to Police Director Rankin for the police part or any specifics.

The posting of an award has led to an arrest. Miss Sherry Murphy, age 41 of Newark, the woman wanted in connection with the death, starvation, and abuse of three young boys in her care, was arrested this morning at 1:45 a.m. by Newark police. Miss Murphy was arrested without incident in the basement apartment of 344 Ellory Avenue in Vailsburg (ph) after Newark police were notified of her whereabouts by a person identified as Jean Claude Dessources, age 31, formerly employed by Home Depot, now unemployed.

Murphy is currently at the Newark Police Department Homicide Squad, being questioned by Newark police and the Essex County prosecutor's homicide squad. She is expected to be arranged in Essex County Superior Court later in the day on the outstanding charges of three counts of child endangerment and one count of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. Further charges in connection with the case are pending.

A few minutes ago, she complained that she was lightheaded, had a headache, and she suffered from high blood pressure. Based on that information being received from her, we are now transporting her to the hospital for an examination.

The incidents occur like this in the whereabouts of Miss Sherry Murphy, and I can tell it to you by heart, having talked to the young man.

Monday at noontime, Mr. Jean Claude Dessources was driving down Lyons Avenue (ph) bordering Newark and Irvington at Lyons (ph) Avenue and Court Street. Near the Dollhouse go-go bar at Court Street and Lyons Avenue (ph) spotted a young lady holding a bag and seemed to be upset and distressed on the telephone at the corner.

He pulled over his car and asked if he could be of assistance. She introduced herself as Michelle Williams, I'm from the South. My mother recently died. She left me a house in Irvington. I'm going to come into some money. There's no furniture in the house now. I have no place to stay. Could we chill together for a while? Mr. Claude -- Jean Claude Dessources said, I would be more than happy, I am a single person. You can stay at my place. And so he took her to the address we have indicated, 344 Ellory (ph) Avenue. First, she wanted him to drive her to Huntington Street (ph) in Newark. They drove down Lyons Avenue, made a left on Burgin (ph) Street, a right on Lehigh (ph), went to Huntington Street.

She knocked on some doors, went to into a house. No one was home. She came back and said, No one is home, can't find anyone. Again, had no place to stay, so OK...

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to keep listening in to this news conference with Mayor Sharpe James of Newark, but we want to let you know that there are two events happening at the same time. This one from Washington, D.C. You're looking at the display of the two black boxes from the crash yesterday, Air Midwest Flight 5481 where 21 people died. It's proving very helpful in trying to figure out what went wrong in that crash. We are going to have more on that from Washington, D.C., in a moment. First, though, we go back to Newark and Mayor James.

JAMES: On Tuesday, the source stated that he saw her picture on the news and asked questions about it. She denied being the person on television, Not me, someone else. And every time any news would come on, she would turn it off, saying it's too distressing.

On Wednesday, after again seeing her on TV, and becoming suspicious, the sources informed Miss Murphy that his girlfriend was coming, couldn't stay in the apartment no more, and will you go next door in the basement apartment, actually to his cousin's apartment, and his name is Jean Baum (ph) -- I'll give you that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jean Baum (ph) in another apartment.

So he says, You have to go over there, stay there for a while because my girlfriend is coming. Now, this is Wednesday evening. And then, while she was there, about midnight, he went to the Irvington Police Station, spoke to police officers outside and said I believe I need help. You are working for a woman in Newark, and the Irvington police officers outside the headquarters said look, we have a tremendous workload, why don't you go down to Newark and give them that information. He got back in his car and drove to the mini (ph) precinct on South Orange Avenue and Isabella Avenue, South Orange, and spoke to officer -- I'll give you the name. He spoke to Officer Terrence Whitley (ph) and said, I believe the woman staying with me is the woman you're looking for.

At that time, he was joined by a commendable group, the task force of the West Ward (ph), headed by Captain Samuel Demayo (ph), Sergeant Eric Engold (ph), Terrance Whitley (ph), Andre Evans (ph), Lose Romero (ph), Luigi Gorino (ph), and the seven officers joined Mr. Dessources, went back to 344 Ellory (ph) Avenue. He opened the door of his cousin's apartment, and she was arrested without incident in that apartment.

An so, again, the posting of an reward, because he indicated that he was once becoming suspicious that she was the person on television, he was concerned about the children, concerned about the charges, and in the same breath, he said concerned about the reward too.

So that is something which the police will do a final report on. So we now have the young lady in custody. We're now going to take her to the hospital and all of those questions about three young boys, a death and abuse, long-standing, the missing person in that puzzle has now been apprehended and I want to commend the police director, Captain Demayo (ph), all of our staff in the police, those in charge of the investigation for outstanding police work, and we will now get some answers into this tragedy that has not only created interest in Newark, but is worldwide today.

Anytime we talk about children being abused, it's everyone, an outpouring of love and concern. We have to get answers so it will not happen again, will not occur again. And I'd like to call on this time, Police Director Robert Rankin.

ROBERT RANKIN, POLICE DIRECTOR, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: A great deal of what we're looking at is still under investigation. There's not a great deal of questions we'll answer at this juncture. I will say we've spoken to a young lady that is a suspect. I won't go any further than that other than to say we have spoken with her. There are too many questions that we have that are unanswered, and for that reason, we don't want to give information that is inaccurate or that may jeopardize the outcome of this case in court.

I'd like to thank the members of the Newark Police Department and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office for their diligence in bringing this part of this case to a conclusion.

We will open up for a few questions, but again, we will be select about those that we answer.

QUESTION: Mr. Rankin, can you give us any idea about what she would have said as to why she did what she did to these children?

RANKIN: I won't answer that, sir.

QUESTION: Does she have an attorney?

RANKIN: As far as I know, she does not.

QUESTION: Has she asked about her own children?

RANKIN: As far as I know, she has not.

QUESTION: Can you confirm for us how many children she does have?

RANKIN: She has five.

QUESTION: And (UNINTELLIGIBLE) those children?

JAMES: We'll give you that.

RANKIN: We'll give that to you. QUESTION: Can you give us a better sense, sir, of what went down this morning as the officers approached the apartment? What happened as they opened that door? Where was she and what was she doing?

RANKIN: To the best of our knowledge, she was in the bed. Whether she was asleep or not, I am not 100 percent certain.

QUESTION: Did she try to flee?

JAMES: She was in bed. She asked if she could put clothes on, speaking to the young man who opened the door, Mr. Jean Claude Dessources. She was in bed -- when he opened the door for the police officer, she sat up in the bed, she had a T-shirt on. She asked if she could put clothes on. The police officers granted that request. And without incident, she was allowed to dress, and they escorted her out.


QUESTION: Had she changed her appearance in any way, had she cut her hair, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hair piece...

JAMES: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Had she changed her appearance in any way, cut her hair?

RANKIN: She had not.

QUESTION: Are you still looking for others in this case?

RANKIN: We're going to examine every lead we have until we've exhausted all leads. As it stands at this juncture, we're going to continue to look at all available leads.

QUESTION: Can you spell the name of her associate, the gentleman who drove her around, and...

JAMES: His name is Jean, he's a Haitian immigrant. Name is Jean, J-E-A-N, his name after that, of course, is Claude. C-L-A -- C- L-A-D-U-E (sic) and Dessources, D-E-S-S-O-U-R-C-E-S, D-E-S-S-O-U-R-C- E-S. Jean Claude Dessources.

QUESTION: How did you spell Claude again?


QUESTION: Mr. Mayor, have you talked with the abused children? Has anybody? What is your state of mind?

JAMES: Pardon?

QUESTION: Have you talked with the abused children?

JAMES: Last time I got beat up, someone said, Don't say you're well. And I said I didn't go up there and be a psychiatrist, I didn't go up there and be a doctor. I went up there to see their conditions once they are -- we have now removed them from a basement dungeon apartment into a hospital. And under those conditions, they were happy, smiling, warm, communicating, talking, eating. They were now a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old enjoying the prime of their life, something they probably never had before. And I don't say that as a psychiatrist. I don't say that as a doctor. I'm just saying as someone going up there, with toys in hand, and watching two kids play. Throw a ball to them, want to play, play ball.

And then, of course, I feel bad because remember, you asked me for a blue car. I done bought the blue car, but I was grounded from going back the other day, and I got an office (ph) with blue cars and clothes, and I plan to make a call to see if I can fulfill my promise because he's asked, mayor, where is that blue car. And I want to take this blue truck with the horn works, the light.

So they are normal kids in this hospital now who have suffered longstanding abuse, but through it all, they're now happy and they're enjoying. And the one thing I have observed and I'm not, again, a doctor, is the bonding of the two. This is unique. Because they've been so abused, but they've been together, when they tried to separate them at the hospital, they began to cry.

So what we ended up doing was putting two beds in one room. The one person that they each trust is the brother. The 4-year-old trusts the 7-year-old, and the-7-year-old trusts the other. We are suspicious, because we're adults, who had a pattern of abusing them, and that's the concern I have, whereby the father called me yesterday, Tyrone Hill, the day before, and said, Mayor James, I want to come back from Springfield, Vermont, and take over my sons, Tyrone Hill, age 5. That's the only one we told you was listed as the father on the birth certificate.

My question comes, what damage would it be to separate two boys who are bonded through all kinds of terrible ordeals, and they trust and love one another? When we put them in a wagon together, when they're together, they like that. When they're together, they like that. When you separate them, there seems to be some depression, like.


QUESTION: What are your own plans to seek child welfare reform.

JAMES: You're really getting me out. You know, what I tried to do is here stay within my boundaries. I didn't want to name, blame anyone.

I think the governor's been very commendable in his self (ph) to talk about once we know of cases of child abuse, no matter what the caseload, we can never hide behind case load or numbers. Somehow, someone have to get to that house, see those children, physically look at them, talk to them, make an examination, and make a determination. Whatever it costs to do that, we have to do that. So I commend Governor McGreevy, who has never been bashful in this event, that we need to make sure that the division of family youth and services do their job.

But I always add to that, biological parents have a responsibility, surrogate parents have a responsibility, and the other thing that hurts me a little, all the parents, relatives are coming forward, saying, Mayor James, get out the way, we want those children, I wish they'd fought for the last seven years or four years to take either one of them and give them the love they're offering now. The hero in all of this is the parent that adopted one of those boys. Didn't say, I want you, legally adopted them and accepted the responsibility of providing food, clothing and shelter for one of those who were adopted and removed from the family.

QUESTION: Now that this woman has been apprehended...

JAMES: We're going to get the sleep. The world is going to get some sleep. And in fact, the police said, Mayor James, we didn't want to call you at 2:00. I was up at 2:00, because the calls we're getting nationwide expressing concern for these children. It's just not a Newark story, this has become an international story.

Even during some tragedy, and even during some bad like this, the good comes out. We know the devil works, but thank God, God is good all the time. The love, the clothing, the toys, the telephone calls. We have funeral homes saying they want to bury them, burial grounds saying they want to give free plot and grounds, churches who want to open their doors to the family. There's so much outpouring of love, I hope the Dyers (ph), who now have resumed responsibility for the children, at least I want to give them a folder that is about four inches deep of people offering help.

Has anyone talked about the burial of Fahim? There are all kinds of offers. Kids need clothes, all kinds of offerings. Scholarship money. One person wants to open a bank account for the two youngsters so their education will be guaranteed for the rest of their lives. Then she supposed the question I haven't heard yet. No one said that. I asked Rahim about school. He said, I don't go to school. Have you ever been in school? How can a 7-year-old never have been in school? How do we have a society where a 7-year-old -- I don't know. Has he been in school? What mechanism do we put in place where someone is 7 years old, never been in school, we get them in school. What would happen then? You come to school with burns, come to school with marks on them. you come to school malnourished, at least a teacher or someone would be another checkstation to say, hey, something's happening in that household.

We're going to take two more and quit.

QUESTION: Are the authorities considering to place any charges against the mother of these children, because this is something that didn't...

JAMES: Those go back to the courts and what the police are saying. Charges are pending because they're changing every day. And understand, we have a biological mother and the abuse transcends her. We have the cousin here, Sherry Murphy, and the abuse transcends her, and then you have this other charge the prosecutor brought to your attention yesterday.

No one has been put together any singular abuse yet. It could be all, it could be one. It's a collective investigation that's going on now, and so I would advise you that that's why we say, it's too early to fix blame, because the investigation is ongoing, even as we stand here today.

QUESTION: What is the condition of the biological mother?

ROBERT RANKIN, NEW POLICE DIR.: She's hospitalized. She's still in intensive care, and her condition is serious.

QUESTION: ... or had she left the state and come back, because we got conflicting information she actually may have been in North Carolina?

RANKIN: We don't know that to be a fact. We've checked every location that we thought she may have been at.

QUESTION: I want to know, has it hit you yet?

JAMES: Every time I went to the hospital and saw a 4 and a 7- year-old who wanted to act like -- I thought of my own children. I have three boys, and I can flashback, and I can be honest, they look like my boys, not with the abuse, but they could have been Elliott and Jean. They could have been my Kevin. When I went to the hospital, I didn't go as mayor; I went as a father and saw two boys I could identify with because I raised boys.

Throwing a ball to Tyrone was like throwing a ball to my son. Pulling them in a wagon was like pulling my sons in wagon. So I've been touched, because you say, who could abuse 7-year-old and 4-year- old kids who can't fight back, didn't ask to come in this world, and all they want to do is be children and grow up, and maybe be a mayor or a newsperson. They want hope.

And I tell you the most touching thing was the first day we brought them into the hospital, to see Tyrone open one of those jelly things, take a spoon, eat all of the jelly, no bread, no nothing, and then take his finger and go around and then eat everything we give him, juice, and then come over, walk over to me and say, Mr. Mayor, how about half of my banana. He was hungry, but he offered me half of my banana.

So even though they'd been abused, they hadn't been crushed. They still have a chance, and that's what we want.

Let me say a final statement before we leave here: Please do not draw any conclusion that the death occurred in Newark and draw no conclusion that any abuse occurred in Newark.

Thank you. HARRIS: And we've been listening to animated and emotional Mayor Sharpe James of Newark, New Jersey brief the press and the world on the results so far of the first phase of this case of these abused children in Newark, New Jersey, and it appears as though the manhunt now for the people responsible for the abuse of these children may be over. However, the investigation is not.

The mayor did tell us that the woman that they had been searching for the last couple of days was found in the middle of the night, and now, he says he can probably get some sleep.

Our Jamie Colby is following this story for us, and she is there at the briefing.

Let's get to her right now and get the latest -- Jamie.

JAMIE COLBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Leon, I think the most interesting thing to come out of the press conference was the fact that Sherry Murphy was here in Newark since Monday, at least since Monday. There was a nationwide search. She was right here. It took a Newark cab driver who is now claiming the reward for her capture. His name is Jean Claude Dessources. He met up with Miss Murphy on Monday when he saw her crying at a payphone. She claimed her mother just died, that she had come up from the South, and she needed a place to stay. He took her home, and days later went to the police station saying he thought they had information that could be helpful. In fact, he did.

When they went to the basement apartment of his home on Wednesday evening, there she was, Sherry Murphy, in bed, asked if she could put herself together and taken into custody. The mayor and police director did confirm that she's being questioned by the Essex County prosecutor's office and the homicide squad that this morning, she said she was feeling faint and has been transported to the hospital in connection with symptoms that may have to do with high blood pressure that she has.

In addition, the mayor having interesting comments about his visits with the boys, that they'd been abused, but never crushed, that their closest allies were each other, and also, one thing he asked us to keep in mind, that though the boys had been abused and 7-year-old Fahim Williams had lost his life, keep in mind there may never have been abuse in connection with that death. What that means, we will learn, I'm sure, in the days to come -- Leon.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Jamie Colby, thank you much. Appreciate that.

COLBY: You're welcome.


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