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Driver charged with vehicular homicide changes attorney as trial set to begin

09/10/2019 6:00 AM |

Days before his trial was set to begin, the Holbrook man accused of a drunken driving crash in Manorville last year that led to the death of 12-year-old Andrew McMorris has claimed that public apology statements made by his attorney should not be used against him in court.

During a pre-trial conference last Wednesday, Thomas Murphy’s new defense attorney, Steven Politi of Central Islip, argued that statements read by his former lawyer, Stephen McCarthy Jr. of Manhattan, did not come from his client.

Prosecutors had been seeking to use public apology statements made on behalf of Mr. Murphy as evidence in the trial.

One of the statements, read by Mr. McCarthy following a court appearance in October, said:

“I, Thomas Murphy, want to offer my deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and loved ones of Andrew McMorris. I take responsibility for my role in the tragic accident that occurred on Sept. 30, 2018, which resulted in the death of a wonderful boy, and the injury of four other boys. I also want to offer my sympathy to the families of the other injured boys: Thomas Lane, Denis Lane, Kaden Lynch and Matthew Yakaboski.

“I will cooperate fully with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office during their investigation of this tragic accident. Again, I am deeply sorry. Myself, and my family, offer our prayers to the McMorris family in this extraordinarily painful and difficult time.”

Mr. Politi said in an interview Monday that those statements were “completely at odds” with what Mr. Murphy wanted.

“He didn’t want any statements read but, unfortunately, his lawyer thought that would be a tactic that would help Mr. Murphy,” Mr. Politi added, noting that Mr. Murphy did not write them or know the contents of the statements until after they were read.

Mr. Politi also said Mr. McCarthy allegedly failed to complete a number of steps, including filing for discovery, reviewing accident scene photos, obtaining video footage and consulting a blood expert.

“In essence, in 11 months, nothing was done that would have uncovered the facts to show why Mr. Murphy is not guilty,” Mr. Politi said.

Andrew was killed nearly one year ago, while on a hike with fellow Boy Scouts in Manorville.

Prosecutors have alleged that on the day of the incident, Mr. Murphy, 60, began drinking vodka as early as 9:30 a.m. at the Swan Lake Golf Club in Manorville and allegedly declined a ride to his next location.

The crash occurred just before 2 p.m. on David Terry Road. The Boy Scouts were walking on the shoulder of the road after a hiking trip.

Mr. Murphy pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment that included a charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 8 and 1/3 to 25 years in prison. Other charges include second-degree vehicular manslaughter, aggravated DWI and second-degree assault.

He remains free on $500,000 bond.

Reached by phone last Thursday, Mr. McCarthy confirmed that he is no longer representing Mr. Murphy.

“I have tremendous respect and affection for Mr. Murphy and his wonderful family,” he said, reading from a statement.

“At my suggestion, I introduced my client, Thomas Murphy, to quality local counsel Steve Politi of Central Islip. I have nothing but respect for Mr. Murphy and wish him all success.”

Following last week’s court appearance, Mr. Politi said he believes the Boy Scouts were unsupervised while walking along the roadway.

He also accused the district attorney’s office of spreading “misinformation” about the incident, and said Monday that they are considering filing for a change of venue to move the case out of Suffolk County.

“There’s been a constant desire to present misinformation about the true facts of the case,” Mr. Politi said, adding that “unfavorable” media coverage could taint potential jurors.

“We need a new forum where people haven’t been biased — and aren’t going to be biased — towards [Mr. Murphy].”

The district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

In court last week, Mr. Politi had also sought to have State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho, who is presiding over the case, recused, based on comments he made during an April 2 court appearance.

During that hearing, Judge Camacho told the defendant that he was “out of patience,” as Mr. Murphy continued to seek delays in the case.

Judge Camacho had urged Mr. Murphy to plead guilty to spare the McMorris family from painfully reliving the incident at trial.

Mr. Politi said Monday that those statements were “damaging” and “improper,” despite the motion being denied by Judge Camacho.

Andrew’s mother, Alisa McMorris, did not wish to comment on the court proceeding last week.

The next pre-trial conference is scheduled for Sept. 24; jury selection could begin Oct. 8.

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