Family of teen who died while in foster care furious after suspect released from jail

Her bail was originally set at $1 million, but during a recent hearing, it was lowered to $50,000.
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. (KABC) -- The mother of a 17-year-old girl who was allegedly murdered while in a foster care home is furious that the woman accused of killing her is now out of jail after having her bail significantly reduced.

"How is it that society all of a sudden cares more for [the person] who killed my daughter," asked Angel Ramirez, speaking about the defendant, 80-year-old Michelle Morris of La Cresta. "I don't understand. If I committed murder ... or someone else, I guarantee they wouldn't have been able to get out this easily."

Ramirez's daughter, Diane "Princess" Ramirez, entered the foster care system in April 2018 and was sent to the Morris Small Family Home in the unincorporated community of La Cresta near Murrieta. Her mother said she was soon contacted by an investigator who raised concerns about allegations of some of the dependents being cared for at the home being subjects of "bruising."

"My question was whether my daughter was OK," said Ramirez, who was disturbed that despite the allegations, her daughter was never removed from the foster home. "I said, 'Can they remove her?' and he said, 'This investigation takes time.'"

Tragically, the teen died on April 6, 2019. According to her family, the operators of the Morris Small Family Home did not immediately call 911.

"I asked the nurse, 'Why didn't anyone do anything? Did they try to help her out? Why didn't they do CPR right away?" asked Ramirez. "The nurse told me herself that she felt something was not right."

Nearly two years later, Morris - one of the operators of the Morris Small Family Home - was indicted on a variety of charges involving several victims. The charges included murder, child endangerment, dependent adult endangerment and lewd acts on a dependent adult.

Her bail was originally set at $1 million, but during a recent hearing, it was lowered to $50,000. She is no longer in custody.

The judge who made the ruling cited a recent California Supreme Court decision which requires judges to now consider a defendant's ability to pay bail in addition to the seriousness of the charged crimes when deciding the bail amount.

The attorney representing the defendant argued that because of the Supreme Court's decision, these additional factors must be considered and are not optional.

He mentioned two other murder cases in Riverside County where accused murderers have been released: one with a bail set at $25,000 and one released on their own recognizance.

The judge agreed that the Supreme Court ruling significantly changes how bail amounts are set, saying defendants can't be detained simply because they're poor.

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"It changes the landscape for how we assess release and under what conditions ask for bond," said Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer.

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin doesn't disagree with the judge's decision to lower Morris' bail, saying he was simply following the law.

"We want to be more fair, and I agree that we want to get away from a system where there's one standard for people who are wealthy, and other standards for people who are not," he said. "But obviously, I'm troubled by the outcome [in this case.] I'm troubled by the fact that someone charged with that seriousness of crimes can walk out."

In a statement, Gene Kennedy with the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services said, "Our hearts go out to those who are affected by Diane Ramirez's death. The loss of Diane - or any child - is heartbreaking. Due to confidentiality laws, our department is unable to comment further. When a critical incident occurs, we seek to identify and understand all the circumstances surrounding that injury or death as part of our deep commitment to continuous improvement and to safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the people we serve."
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