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Thomas Murphy found guilty on all charges; faces up to 25 years in prison

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Thomas Murphy stood between his attorneys, his gaze fixed on the jury foreperson, as she delivered a verdict on all nine charges the Holbrook man faced Wednesday afternoon.

“Guilty,” said Andrea Vianola of Shirley, one of the five women and seven men who deliberated for the better part of two days before convicting Mr. Murphy, who took the life of 12-year-old Andrew McMorris of Wading River in a drunken driving crash on David Terry Road in Manorville last September. Three other Scouts were injured.

The six-week trial — which included testimony from 26 witnesses and dozens of tense moments between the judge and defense — came to a swift close Wednesday when Judge Fernando Camacho returned from a lunch break to inform both sides the jury had reached a verdict.

The packed courtroom was silent as the charges were read off one by one. 

Mr. Murphy, 60, took a seat as Ms. Vianola concluded her reading of the verdict and his supporters began sobbing. One of Mr. Murphy’s three daughters wrapped her arm around another as reality set in. Sitting only several feet away, Alisa McMorris, Andrew’s mother, raised her left hand to her mouth and began to cry.

Ms. McMorris and her husband, John, continued to sob outside the courtroom as they addressed the media with their 17-year-old daughter, Arianna, standing at their side.

“We trusted the judicial system,” Ms. McMorris said.

“God bless the DA’s office, the jury for seeing what really happened that day, to speak the truth and let the truth prevail,” Mr. McMorris said.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini hugged Ms. McMorris after the jury left the courtroom.

Mr. Murphy’s defense attorney, Steven Politi, said: “You hope that a jury won’t convict with emotion, but sometimes that’s hard for them to do.”

Mr. Politi said he plans to file an appeal, alleging “dozens” of missteps by prosecutors and the judge.

“This is only the beginning,” he said.

Mr. Murphy, who is due back in court Jan. 21 on motions filed during the trial, will be sentenced sometime after that. He is facing a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, with a minimum of between one and three years.

He will remain free on a $500,000 bond pending sentencing next year.

All 12 jurors declined to comment shortly after the reading of the verdict, which came more than two months after jury selection began.

Jurors spent the better part of two days re-examining evidence and testimony and beginning deliberations before reaching the verdict Wednesday afternoon. The process began with a two-hour jury charge Tuesday from Judge Camacho, who explained in detail the elements of each charge facing Mr. Murphy.

“We trust in the process and we trust in the jury and believe that justice will be served,” Ms. McMorris told reporters in the opening minutes of deliberations.

On two occasions during the first day of deliberations the jury returned to the courtroom with notes requesting specific photographs, to view a video from the crime scene and, among other requests, to hear a reading of testimony related to when Mr. Murphy might have begun drinking on the day of the crash and to the injuries of two other boys.

The charges the jury convicted on included two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of second-degree vehicular assault and two counts of third-degree assault and reckless driving.  

“[Prosecutors] failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt on any of the elements,” Mr. Politi told the media outside the courtroom, a group that grew to more than a dozen reporters, photographers and camera operators as the case reached its final hours.

During closing arguments, jurors first heard from the defense, which called the crash that caused Andrew’s death an “unavoidable tragic accident” and said the criminal case that followed was one built around an ever-evolving set of facts manufactured by prosecutors right up until the final day of testimony at trial. Then the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office took its turn and said the crash could have been avoided if Mr. Murphy had accepted a friend’s offer to drive his car home that afternoon.

“Mr. Murphy decided to gamble,” assistant district attorney Brendan Ahern told jurors of the Holbrook man’s decision to get behind the wheel after drinking with friends at the nearby Swan Lake Golf Club. “He selfishly rolled the dice and the children lost everything.

“It’s time to hold him accountable for his crimes.”

John and Alisa McMorris speak with reporters during deliberations Wednesday, as they expressed confidence in a guilty verdict, which did come down less than two hours later. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

Mr. Politi began his closing arguments by reminding jurors of assistant district attorney Raymond Varuolo’s claim during opening arguments that they would hear testimony in the trial from an accident reconstruction expert prosecutors ultimately decided against having take the witness stand. He suggested the decision to not call Suffolk County crime lab investigator Robert Genna and others on the witness list fits a pattern in the case of prosecutors changing course when circumstances might be beneficial to Mr. Murphy. He also painted two of the detectives as personal friends of the victims in the case.

“Has anything been fair to my client?” he asked at one point. “Not from minute one.”

Mr. Ahern said it wasn’t necessary to call Mr. Genna since Mr. Murphy’s own friends testified that the Scouts were walking on the shoulder and not in the roadway, as Mr. Politi suggested in his closing arguments. The defense blamed Mr. Murphy’s obstructed view of the roadway as he drove behind a larger SUV and a lack of supervision on the hike.

The defense was also critical of prosecution witness Steven Meola, the only one of three friends who went golfing with Mr. Murphy prior to the crash who said he believed Mr. Murphy was driving drunk. He called Mr. Meola a “degenerate” and a “loser” who has a track record of inappropriate behavior and can’t be trusted. He also urged jurors to remember that his client’s other friends, Chris DiMaria and Ray O’Brien, said they did not believe Mr. Murphy was intoxicated.

Mr. Politi questioned if the blood tested at the Suffolk County crime laboratory, where it registered a 0.13% blood alcohol content, even belonged to his client, saying police and prosecutors failed to present a clear chain of custody of the sample. He also noted that one of the instruments used during the blood test had expired one day earlier. He said the testimony from Mr. Murphy’s friends proved he drank no more than six ounces of vodka that morning, an amount that could not have caused the 350-pound man to get drunk.

Mr. Ahern said Mr. DiMaria and Mr. O’Brien likely colluded to lie about how much vodka was in the bottle they drank at the course that day.

Mr. Sini spoke with reporters after the verdict was read.

“We’ve obtained justice for Andrew,” he said. “That’s what this was about. We never lost sight of that. And today, justice was served.”

COMPLETE TRIAL COVERAGE

Day 1: Prosecutors say Murphy turned down ride from sober friend moments before fatal crash

Day 2: Text messages, friend’s testimony tell a story of day of Scout crash

Day 3: Defense calls into question the character of key witness in Murphy trial

Day 4: Friends testify that despite drinking, Murphy did not appear drunk on day of crash

Day 5: Parents of surviving victims take stand

Day 6: Shoreham parent recounts moment of crash during testimony

Day 7: Jury sent home early as defense raises legal issue in Murphy trial

Day 8: Arresting officer testifies that Murphy showed signs of intoxication following crash

Day 9: Two more officers testify that Murphy was intoxicated on day of crash

Day 10: Two detectives take witness stand at Murphy trial

Day 11: Scientist who tested Murphy’s blood testifies it was over legal limit

Day 12: Toxicologist: Murphy’s BAC was twice legal limit; ordered to turn over notes

Day 13: Several charges could be withdrawn in case against Thomas Murphy

Day 14: Scout’s dad says ‘I ran as fast as I could’ to help son following crash

Day 15: Murphy defense begins to make its case as judge officially dismisses four charges

Day 16: Prosecutors to call counter witness as end of Murphy trial nears

Day 17: Another delay in Murphy trial as jury sent home early Thursday

Day 18: Testimony concludes in Murphy trial as exchange between judge and attorney gets heated

Day 19: Jury expected to begin deliberations Tuesday in Scout’s death case

Day 20: Jury does not reach verdict in first hours of deliberations at Murphy trial