Reunited Dad Beats Daughter to Death

The Star Tribune Newspaper’s Rochelle Olson reported the tragic story of a father who beat his 2 year old daughter to death. Pierre Gray the father, pled guilty and received a sentence of 36 years in prison.

What is the story behind this tragedy?

Unfortunately, it started when Malaya, the child, was born prematurely and tested positive for cocaine with her mother. At her birth, the child was placed in a foster home. Although the birth mother tried to regain custody of her child, she was unsuccessful. The foster family began to raise the child as their own.

So how did Malaya end up in a dangerous house instead of the safe foster home??

At some point Mr. Gray, the blood father, came to Juvenile Court and asserted his rights to custody of his daughter in a child protection case. Since he had not parented the child previously, the county Child Protection department offer him a case plan.

Such case plans are usually a series of tasks a parent must successfully complete before reunification of the child with the parent is recommended by the county to the judge. I don’t know the details of Mr. Gray’s plan. Typically these plans include parenting education, sobriety and/or treatment, therapy, and demonstrated ability to safely parent.

Over the course of several months, Mr. Gray completed the case plan. He asked the judge to reunify Malaya with himself, his wife, and four other children in the home. Participants in that child protection case told me they disagreed with reunification and worried about Malaya’s safety even back then.

Under the law in Minnesota, if a parent has completed a case plan, it is difficult for the county or a Guardian ad Litem for the child, to prevail in a child protection trial. Even if everyone had concerns, if the father or mother demonstrates they can parent the child safely by completing a case plan, it’s likely they will win at trial–after all, they are blood parents.

It appears from the Strib article that sobriety was the main concern in the case plan. Participants told me that when Malaya was reunited with her blood father, they still feared for the girl’s safety. The foster parents even offered to take Malaya on occasion if parenting became too stressful for her father.

Now, it looks like there had been a long series of physical beatings to the child that culminated in her death. At his sentencing, Mr. Gray’s lawyer told the judge his chemical abuse contributed to the loss of control and the beatings–the very concern probably addressed in the case plan.

What can Child Protection services do in these cases?

The law in Minnesota says that a blood parent has a right to custody of their child–if they can demonstrate an ability to keep the child safe. How can we be sure of that? What about the parent who has changed from a violent background to a peaceful, sober, and safe one? Should that parent be denied custody of their child, based on the background if they can show they’ve changed?

How can we protect children? What are your thoughts?

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About Colin Nelson

Colin T. Nelson worked for 40 years as a prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer in Minneapolis. He tried everything from speeding tickets to first degree murder. His writing about the courtroom and the legal system give the reader a "back door" view of what goes on, what's funny, and what's a good story. He has also traveled extensively and includes those locations in his mysteries. Some are set in Southeast Asia, Ecuador,Peru, and South Africa. Readers get a suspenseful tale while learning about new places on the planet. Colin is married, has two adult children, and plays the saxophone in various bands.

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