Updated: Feb 2, 2015
This week the murder trial for Melinda Lynn Muniz began. Muniz is charged with capital murder in the death of Grace Lillian Reeves-Ford. Now one year later, Grace’s parents must endure the pain of hearing all that happened to their little girl that fateful day. Out of respect for them I will not go into detail of what has been revealed thus far in the trial. Due to the delicate nature of the situation now is not the time to share those details.
Now that the trial is over, with the family’s permission I have updated the article.
On the afternoon of Feb 2, 2015 a court room sat in silence listening only to the tick of a clock for 3 minutes; the length of time it takes for a person to suffocate. Trial testimony revealed the possibility of Grace having been suffocated before the duct tape was applied. Duct tape that surveillance video showed Muniz had Grace with her as she purchased the instruments of her murder.
Digressing a bit. On January 9, 2014 Plano police were summoned to the apartment where Grace was found unconscious in her bed, her face covered in duct tape She was taken off life support three days after Plano police believe Muniz staged a home invasion in the Eastside Village apartment she shared with Grace and Mitch Ford, the girl’s father. Muniz was arrested Jan. 28, 2014.
It took the jury only 45 minutes to decide Muniz’ fate: Guilty… sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. They did their job, but questions rise about CPS. There had been 4 CPS reports against Muniz relating to abuse of Grace. Three of which took place within one year. A factor that the Health and Human Services Inspector General’s office indicates should have triggered an additional visit by a Safety Specialist, laying the blame on a computer glitch while removing blame from any workers.
Problem is there was a fifth report. Two days before Grace’s attack, her grandfather hand delivered a letter to CPS indicating his concerns over safety. A situation that should have triggered a P1 investigation requiring contact within 24 hours. This did not happen so Grace joins the 143 children that died due to abuse in Texas in 2014.
In Texas child deaths due to abuse appears to be on the decline, from 231 in 2011, 211 in 2012, 159 in 2013 and 144 in 2014. But a recent article by the Austin-Statesman revealed some 665 confirmed abuse deaths went unreported publicly By Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). That was part of a very comprehensive 3 day series presented by the Statesman. Very important is the “Interactive” page that links you to data on 779 child deaths reviewed. You can download their data here.
During 2013, Texas had a sharp increase in “reported” foster deaths. This led to several interim hearings by the Texas Legislature in 2014. Add to that the first Sunset review since 1997 of the child protection agency (DFPS) presented Texas with an unprecedented year of transparency into Texas’ child protection system. There also was a very intensive audit by a third party agency, The Stephens Group that revealed many problems. One of which was that caseworkers were only getting about 26% actual face to face time with the children they are charged to protect. You can read their report here.
Additionally there was an interim House Select Committee on Child Protection that met 4 times. Many that observed how this committee was managed feel that all it did was reveal how the Texas legislature micro-manages DFPS. Their report is here.
Point is, children die. Some from natural causes. Some due to accidents. Some due to abuse. Others due to abuse in foster care. We must get past the mourning and grief so that we can do what we can to change the system responsible, be it health care or child protection or even general parenting. Of the 779 in the Statesman article, 144 had at least 3 prior CPS calls. One had 23. But many are unrelated to abuse.
Bottom line, we have a great deal of work to do. It can’t be completed without moving forward.