House arrest, probation for mother whose toddler was beaten to death

Claude Alexis
Claude Alexis Miami-Dade Corrections

Four years ago, a 2-year-old North Miami Beach boy named Ezra Raphael was allegedly beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend in a case that yet again drew scrutiny to Florida’s child welfare agency.

The slain boy’s mother on Thursday pleaded guilty to child neglect. But she won’t be headed to prison.

Instead, Cierrah Raphael, 25, will serve two years of house arrest and eight years of probation. And if she’s called, Raphael must testify against her former boyfriend, Claude Alexis, who is facing the death penalty if convicted of the child’s 2013 murder.

“It was a fair resolution,” said her defense attorney, Brian Kirlew.

Raphael, who is working painting nails, will also enter a substance-abuse rehabilitation program for women.

Ezra was one of 477 children who, over a seven-year period, died of abuse or neglect after their families had come to the attention of Florida’s Department of Children and Families. The agency’s lapses were chronicled in the Miami Herald series Innocents Lost.

Raphael herself had entered the state’s troubled child welfare system herself in 2006 after her mother died. Before Ezra was born, Raphael lost custody of a previous child.

Ezra came to DCF attention in February 2013, after it was learned that Raphael, out on the streets working as a prostitute, had left him with a virtual stranger. The brief DCF probe deemed Ezra was at “high” risk of being harmed, but the case was closed with no action.

Ezra returned to living with his mother.

Then in June 2013, paramedics were summoned to Alexis’ North Miami Beach home, where he had been taking care of the boy. Ezra was found unconscious on the dining-room floor, and he died shortly after being admitted to Jackson North Medical Center.

An autopsy found that Ezra died of trauma to his back and body. North Miami Beach police said Alexis walked to the police station and admitted that he got angry with Ezra because the boy turned on a bathroom faucet and got water “all over.”

Alexis admitted hitting the child “with a belt” and said “he did not mean for this to happen,” according to an arrest report.

Raphael was charged with neglect for leaving the child in Alexis’ care.