The parents of Andrew McMorris vowed to continue fighting for justice for their son, who was killed last September by an alleged drunken driver, as the case now heads to trial.
Faced with a deadline to plead guilty, the driver charged with striking five Boy Scouts, Thomas Murphy, 60, of Holbrook, instead opted for a trial at Thursday’s court appearance in Central Islip.
“This is the road that’s been chosen for us and we’re ready to walk it,” said Andrew’s mother, Alisa.
The case will now move to a pre-trial hearing set for June 4.
Mr. Murphy appeared before Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho for what turned out to be a brief court appearance, lasting barely a minute.
Judge Camacho had urged Mr. Murphy to plead guilty to spare Andrew’s family from additional pain and suffering by recounting the events at trial. And Mr. Murphy had said in several statements since his arrest that he planned to accept responsibility for the tragedy.
After Mr. Murphy left the courtroom, assistant district attorney Brendan Ahern addressed the large group there to support the McMorris family and Troop 161, many of whom carried photos of Andrew.
“Today we reach a fork in the road,” he said. “There is no plea. That’s OK. We told you all along that if you look up here and to my left, you have a team that’s been preparing since day one that if this case needed to be tried, we would try it, we would try it correctly and secure justice.”
Prosecutors did not offer Mr. Murphy a plea deal, where he could plead guilty to lesser charges, a spokesperson for District Attorney Timothy Sini confirmed. Mr. Murphy’s choice was to plead guilty to the full indictment or face a trial.
Mr. Sini spoke briefly about the case Thursday afternoon.
“We made it clear that we were going to seek the maximum sentence if the defendant pleaded guilty to the indictment,” Mr. Sini said. “He went back on his promise that he was going to accept responsibility for his crime and that he was going to spare the family, the Boy Scout community and all of the victims’ loved ones and supporters the trauma of going to trial.”
If convicted of the top charge, he faces a maximum sentence of eight and one-third to 25 years in prison, the DA said when he was indicted.
Andrew’s father, John McMorris, said Thursday the family is focused on healing, strength and justice.
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“What happened on Sept. 30 was 100% avoidable,” he said. “[Mr. Murphy] drank all day, he got into the vehicle and he crashed into five boys. That was 100% avoidable.”
Andrew, 12, was killed Sept. 30 while on a hike with fellow scouts in Manorville. Four other boys were injured in the crash. Mr. Murphy is facing a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. He remains free on bond after pleading not guilty. Mr. Murphy and his attorney, Steven McCarthy Jr., left the courthouse once the brief proceeding ended, passing the TV cameras set up outside the courtroom without giving comment.
At the prior court appearance in March, Mr. McCarthy read a statement on behalf of his client saying: “I ask respectfully that those who come to court allow myself and my family the time to fully evaluate my case and my role in this tragic accident.”
Mr. Ahern told the courtroom that he was sorry the case now must head to trial, but his team is prepared.
“We’re going to do it shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “We’re going to do it to secure justice.”
Ms. McMorris remembered her son as an “honorable, wonderful little boy.”
“I have been without him for 215 days, more than seven months,” she said. “He’s missed Thanksgiving, he missed Christmas, he missed his birthday.”
Mr. McMorris continued: “He’ll never have the chance to grow up, to graduate high school, college. He’ll never have the chance to be a pilot he always dreamed of being. He’ll never have a family of his own and we’re going to fight for Andrew and all the boys that were affected by this horrible tragedy.”
They then thanked all the supporters who have attended each court appearance.
“Justice will be served,” Ms. McMorris said. “I am not fearful.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version described Mr. Murphy’s action as declining a plea deal. Prosecutors did not offer a plea deal. His choice was to plead guilty to the full indictment or face a trial. He opted for trial.
Top caption: The McMorris family speaks with the media outside the courtroom Thursday. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)