A heartbroken young mother tragically loses her precious baby boy. But Hera McLeod refuses to believe her only child died of a seizure. So Hera turns sleuth to prove it.
Hera relives her waking nightmare in an emotional interview with Crime Watch Daily's own Elizabeth Smart.
Hera's baby boy was literally her little Prince, named after the late music legend. And he was the child Hera dreamed of having when she returned home to Manassas, Virginia after serving overseas for a U.S. government consulting firm. Hera had also satisfied her sense of adventure as a reality TV star, competing in "The Amazing Race."
Now she was ready to be a mom.
"I was just kind of looking to settle down and start a family," said Hera.
And she believed she'd finally found the right man to do it with when she met Joaquin Rams, the single father of a 10-year-old son, on an online dating site.
"I was like, well, anybody who has custody of their kid must be good," said Hera tells Crime Watch Daily.
He was certainly good at sweeping a girl off her feet. Rams also appeared to be a successful a singer who boasted of working with the famous likes of Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.
"And he was going to be rich and famous, and he was going to buy mommy a house and outdo everyone," said Joaquin Rams's half-brother Joseph Velez.
Hera had found him irresistible, and it wasn't long before Hera and Joaquin were living together.
"He spent the first few months making me feel amazing, and making me feel like he loved me," said Hera.
Hera's happiness seemed complete when she learned she was pregnant with Prince.
"But I wasn't excited about the fact that we weren't married, and he definitely was not excited about it, which made it worse," said Hera. "When he first found out he was really unhappy. He was like angry at me, and I was like, 'Wait, you're acting like I did this myself.' I was like, you know, 'That doesn't work that way.'"
But they became engaged, and Prince's birth was the most joyous experience of Hera's life.
"Prince was just an angel," said Hera. "He came out and he was like -- one of the reasons I called him Prince is that he started singing. He wasn't crying. He was like 'La, la.'"
And Hera hoped Joaquin would come to love the boy as much as she did. But Joaquin only grew increasingly unhappy, refusing to work and relying on Hera to be the sole breadwinner of the family.
"So then I was paying for everything," said Hera.
And Joaquin began to reveal a dark side Hera had never seen before.
"He had these moments where he would just like fly into a rage," said Hera.
Joaquin allegedly became abusive and violent.
"He was arrested for beating up his son while I was there," said Hera.
A horrified Hera McLeod realized she'd badly misread Joaquin Rams, fearing for the safety of her little Prince, as well as her own.
"I was like, 'Oh God, how are we going to get out this situation,'" said Hera.
It would reach a crisis point with a shocking accusation by Hera's younger sister that Joaquin had raped her.
But according to Washington Post Reporter Tom Jackman, Joaquin claimed it was consensual sex and Joaquin had secretly videotaped the encounter to prove it.
"And the police watched this tape and declined to charge him with rape," said Jackman.
But consensual or not, it was the last straw for Hera, who left Joaquin and took their baby son Prince with her.
"It was like somebody put a bucket of cold water on my head and I woke up, and I was like 'This man is a monster.' And I don't know why it took something like that happening for me to realize how bad he was," said Hera.
Hera McLeod had come to realize that the father of her precious little Prince was not the dream man she thought he was when they met.
Hera says Joaquin Rams had turned into a violent and frightening Jekyll and Hyde monster. But Hera says she had no idea just how evil he was until the two became entangled in a bitter custody battle over Prince. And she discovered, with the help of a private investigator, that Joaquin had been living a dark and deadly double life.
"He has been somebody who has basically been a criminal his entire life, or at least what I know of his life," said Hera.
For a start, Joaquin's boast that he was a successful singer who'd worked with an array of famous performers turned out to be a whopper of a lie.
"I've never seen any evidence that he had any kind of involvement in the music industry," said Washington Post Reporter Tom Jackman.
Jackman and Joaquin's half-brother Joseph Velez say it was the fabrication of an apparently sick mind.
"He was delusional. He was a pathological liar," said Velez. "He was a narcissist. He didn't care about anything or anyone but himself. And all he cared about is what he can get from you."
It was also learned that some of the money Joaquin had flashed around to create the appearance of success had allegedly come from the sex trade.
"To my knowledge he's never actually had a legitimate job," said Hera.
But it's where the rest of his money came from that really set off the alarm bells.
"He was living off of life insurance," said Hera.
Collecting $162,000 on a policy he'd taken out on his mother who later died under mysterious circumstances.
"She has a bag over her head, a note is left, a handwritten note saying that she didn't want to go on anymore. And the case is ruled a suicide," said Jackman.
But her family didn't buy the official finding that she'd suffocated herself in the home she shared with Joaquin.
"There was absolutely nothing that anyone could do to convince me that my mother Alma, my mother didn't commit suicide. She didn't commit suicide. My mother was murdered," said Velez.
Joaquin's brother says that became obvious when he read the coroner's report.
"There were bruises on her body," said Velez. "There was marks all over her neck. She had apparent puncture wounds in her abdomen area. She had a huge amount of blood coming out of her face."
And Velez alleges that his brother Joaquin did the unthinkable: murdered his own mother.
"He poisoned her, he strangled her, and he possibly bludgeoned her," said Velez.
Hera was horrified when she learned about the case.
"I was told that Rams's mother died of a heart attack," said Hera. Referring to a suicide note she supposedly wrote, Hera said, "I think it's absolutely possible he forged it."
And she and her private investigator made another shocking discovery: Joaquin Rams had also been a suspect in the murder of the mother of his older son, Joaquin Junior.
"He told me she had died in a car accident," said Hera. Hera was shocked when she learned the truth.
"She was shot in the head the day before they were supposed to go in for custody court," said Hera.
And Joaquin Rams had taken out a life insurance policy on her too, with a reported payout of more than $100,000.
"Joaquin did not collect any life insurance from [ex-girlfriend] Sean's death. That money was placed in a trust for their son, Joaquin Junior," said Jackman.
The case remained unsolved. But an alarmed Hera was convinced Joaquin was a murderer, and now they were in a custody battle too.
"I was like, 'Yes, he is going to kill me,'" said Hera.
But Hera was more afraid for the safety of Prince after Joaquin was granted visitation with the child, despite Hera's protests and warnings about unsupervised visits.
"I was terrified. I mean, it was like sending your child across a field of landmines and just hoping that they return alive," said Hera.
Then, while 15-month-old Prince is with his father on October 21, 2012, it happens. Joaquin's roommate calls 911 saying he fears Prince is dying.
Roommate: "Right now he's unconscious. He was having seizures and uh -- "
911 Operator: "He was having seizures?"
The little boy had a history of mild febrile seizures caused by fevers, but they're not considered life-threatening.
"It's literally like the kid can have a febrile seizure and then get up and run down the hall," said Hera.
It sounds a lot more serious this time.
Roommate: "And he's bleeding from his nose."
Joaquin: "His nose."
Joaquin can be heard yelling from across the room, where he and his roommate's girlfriend are trying to revive Prince.
Roommate: "And now she's trying to give him mouth to mouth."
911 Operator: "All right, hold on. I don't want you doing mouth to mouth right now, OK?"
The roommate relays instructions to Joaquin, who sounds like he's crying in the background.
Roommate: "He's just totally unresponsive."
Joaquin: "He's not moving. He's not doing anything."
Roommate: "Leave him on his side, Joaquin."
Joaquin: "I've got him on his side. I'm losing him."
The roommate gets impatient with an apparently hysterical Joaquin.
Roommate: "Please sit down. I can't help if I'm chasing you around the room."
911 Operator: "Sir?"
The operator tells them to try chest compressions on Prince.
Roommate: "I didn't feel a heartbeat. Here comes the ambulance."
911 Operator: "OK, very good, but let's continue doing it, OK?"
Finally, medics arrive. The child was declared dead at the hospital, where his mother touched her little Prince for the last time.
"He had these like, big beautiful curls," said Hera. "I ran my hand through his hair and it was ice-cold, and he basically was brain dead."
The news that her angelic little Prince was dead was so devastating that Hera McLeod thought she'd died too and gone to heaven with him.
"We were in the hospital for about three hours. I remember just falling over and I felt like it was this weird out-of-body experience where it was like watching this happening from somebody else," said Hera. "I didn't feel like I was there for probably like several minutes."
But Hera tells Crime Watch Daily she wasn't surprised that her worst fears had become tragically real.
"When I finally realized what was happening, I mean I think I just kind of was like, 'OK, like, this finally happened. This finally happened.' And it was weird because it wasn't a shock," said Hera. "Because it was what I had been worried about the whole time."
That Prince would die if he was left alone with his father Joaquin Rams.
"I remember telling the doctors, I'm like, 'He did this. This is murder,'" said Hera.
The initial autopsy suggests Hera was right.
"The coroner said it was drowning, but most of the doctors said it was some kind of suffocation. So either drowning or suffocation," said Hera. "It was not natural causes."
And although the cause of death was later changed to "undetermined," a police investigation uncovered a sickening motive for Prince's murder: More than half a million dollars Joaquin was due to collect on three life insurance policies he had taken out on his 15-month-old son.
"He waited until my son was a year old, we think because usually that's as long as it takes for the life insurance to become eligible for payout," said Hera.
When did Hera find out he had policies?
"Two weeks after my son died," said Hera.
Prosecutors are also armed with the details of Joaquin Rams's dark past when he's arrested for murder three months after his baby Prince died. Among them was that he had previously taken out life insurance policies on his mother, who died under suspicious circumstances; and another on his other son's mother, whom Joaquin was suspected of shooting to death.
"When there's a pattern of murders and abuse, and this person just keeps getting away with it, I don't think we can be shocked that he felt emboldened enough to kill a toddler," said Hera.
"Three people very close to Joaquin Rams died and all three of them had big life insurance policies," said Tom Jackman. "Either he's incredibly unlucky, or he's a serial killer."
Prince William County, Virginia Prosecutor Paul Ebert suspects the latter, and puts Joaquin on trial for the first-degree murder of his little boy.
"It's a question of what caused his death. Did he have a seizure or was he smothered or drowned?" said Ebert.
That will be decided by a judge, not a jury, in a deal that spares Joaquin the death penalty.
"It basically was a battle of the experts, and the judge had a lot of evidence he had to sift through and make some factual findings," said Ebert.
The judge hears two opposing versions of what happened the day Prince died while in the care of his father.
"The defense's version is that Joaquin put Prince down for a nap, and that he was checking on him later, and that he saw Prince having a seizure," said Tom Jackman.
But the prosecution alleges Joaquin had already murdered his son.
"The prosecution moved forward with the theory that perhaps during the time that Prince was taking a nap that afternoon, his dad had swept into the room, picked him up, suffocated him with a pillow, and then placed him back in the crib, and then came in later and went through the charade of 'Oh my gosh, he's seizing,' and yells for his house mate to call 911," said Jackman.
The defense insists the seizure was real, as was Joaquin's distress.
"It sounds like Joaquin is genuinely disturbed, but we can't see him, we can't see the baby, we don't know what else is going on," said Jackman. "But in fact the judge did rule that he was acting and that the call was a charade."
Just a little more than a month prior, Joaquin made a previous 911 call when he was taking care of Prince, who had a history of febrile seizures caused by high fevers.
Joaquin Rams: "Yes, I have a young child that has had seizures in the past, he's in the middle of another seizure."
But Hera McLeod thinks the call is suspicious.
"I think he hoped that it would be an alibi. He was like, 'Oh, perfect. I can say he had a seizure,'" said Hera.
If so, Joaquin hoped wrong.
"There were a number of experts on febrile seizures who convinced Judge Bellows that it was not possible for Prince to have died of a febrile seizure, that children do not die of febrile seizures," said Jackman.
And Joaquin Rams's fate is sealed.
"The judge ruled that it was murder, willful premeditated murder," said prosecutor Paul Ebert. "The judge sentenced him to life plus 10 years."
"They put him where he belongs," said Joseph Velez.
"So yeah, they finally got him," said Hera McLeod.
As Joaquin Rams appeals the verdict, investigators are taking a closer look at those suspicious deaths of both his mother and the mother of his elder son.
"I believe in my heart and soul that Joaquin Rams is a serial killer," said Velez.
Joaquin Rams is now expected to die behind bars. Hera believes Joaquin would have kept killing if he hadn't been stopped. She thinks Joaquin might have even killed her if not for her special little guardian angel.
"I think I was probably a target, and I wish it had been me rather than my son, but my son saved my life," said Hera.
Rams's attorneys have already begun the appeals process. The prosecution says if he should win a new trial, this time they would consider going for the death penalty.
Joaquin Rams's defense attorney Chris Leibig issued a statement to Crime Watch Daily:
"Mr. Rams is represented on appeal by an experienced capital defense lawyer named Meghan Shapiro and myself. Our initial filing in the Virginia Court of Appeals is due in about two months. We will be asking the appeals court to reverse Mr. Rams’ conviction. If the court agrees with us there will be a new trial unless the prosecutors drop the case." -- Chris Leibig