Rams v. Commonwealth (P)

Evidence was sufficient to support the appellant’s conviction for capital murder of his 15-month-old son.

The law does not require the Commonwealth to prove the precise cause of death, only that the death “resulted through a criminal agency.” Here, the trial court found that the circumstantial evidence proved that the child’s death was criminal and did not result from natural causes. That evidence included the appellant’s false claims that he discovered the child seizing and “very hot” to the touch. It also included a financial motive in that the appellant’s financial state was dire and he’d recently purchased more than $500,000 of insurance policies on the child’s life. The appellant also spoke with his real estate agent about undertaking major home improvements. This evidence was sufficient to disprove all reasonable hypotheses that P.R. died from natural, noncriminal causes.

The trial court did not improperly shift the burden to the appellant to disprove the corpus delicti and to establish a natural death. Instead, the trial court’s analysis excluded the natural cause of death advanced by the appellant, eliminated other natural and accidental causes of death, and found that the evidence as a whole proved a criminal cause.

The trial court also didn’t err in denying the appellant’s numerous motions for a bill of particulars regarding the Commonwealth’s theory of the corpus delicti. He has established no constitutional entitlement to notice of the precise manner in which the Commonwealth alleged that he caused his son’s death. The appellant was aware of the Commonwealth’s theories regarding the cause of death significantly in advance of his 2017 trial. Finally, he concedes that any prejudice might have been remedied by a continuance, which he did not request.


Rams v. Commonwealth (P), No. 1453-17-4, Feb. 26, 2019. CAV (Decker) from Prince William (Bellows).

Categories: Court of Appeals of Virginia, Opinions, Published


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