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Judge denies request for special prosecutor in scout’s death case

A Suffolk County judge has denied a request for a special prosecutor in the case of a Holbrook man accused of killing a Wading River boy in an alleged drunken driving crash last year.

Suffolk County Supervising Judge Mark Cohen issued his decision Friday morning, just four days before the trial is set to begin.

The decision comes 48 hours after Steven Politi of Central Islip, the attorney for defendant Thomas Murphy, filed the motion alleging “misdeeds” by the office of Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini, which he said acted improperly by presenting victim impact letters to the court prior to a trial taking place. He also argued the DA’s office has maintained what he suggested is an unusually close relationship with the family of Andrew McMorris, the 12-year-old Scout who was struck by Mr. Murphy’s vehicle and killed while on a hike in Manorville the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2018. Additionally, Mr. Politi said he believes the presence at the scene of the crash of prosecutors trying the case limits his ability to call them as witnesses.

In papers filed with the court Thursday, the DA’s office denied each of the charges, saying prosecutors did not gather any evidence at the scene, but rather were there to provide legal counsel to certain aspects of the investigation. The DA’s office also said it’s common for prosecutors to have a “positive rapport with the victims and their families.”

In his decision, Judge Cohen wrote that he believes the district attorney’s office has “not tipped the balance against the defendant so as to require judicial action.”

“[The district attorney’s office] has responsibilities which, at times, require a delicate balance,” Judge Cohen wrote. “The record presented plainly establishes that [the DA’s office] has understood the tensions involved in executing its responsibilities.”

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Mr. Politi said he has made prosecutors aware of his intent to now file a motion in appellate court to have Judge Fernando Camacho removed from the case, arguing the judge has failed to be impartial and has “cut off [Mr. Murphy’s] ability to be heard on pretrial motions.” He said he will also request a change of venue once jury selection begins Tuesday, stating that the jury pool in Suffolk County has been tainted by “inaccurate” information.

“For the last year the facts have been misreported and the facts have been doled out by the district attorney’s office to benefit their case, but they’re simply not true,” Mr. Politi said outside the courtroom Friday. In its response filed with the court Thursday, the DA’s office denied such allegations. Prosecutors declined further comment Friday.

Appearing before Judge Cohen Friday, Mr. Politi questioned the integrity of the DA’s office by asking the judge to review a pair of signatures from assistant district attorney Brendan Ahern, who he alleged did not personally sign an affirmation filed with the court Thursday. After chief assistant district attorney William Ferris stated that Mr. Ahern had signed the papers himself, the judge moved on to his decision.

Judge Cohen previously denied a motion by the defense for a stay in the trial.

Mr. Murphy, 60, who was not present Friday, is facing a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison. He is expected to return to court in Riverhead at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday for a hearing to determine if evidence was seized from a defendant as a result of a search conducted without probable cause.

Jury selection is expected to begin at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday and continue through the end of the week. Testimony in the case will likely begin the following week, according to a memo issued by the court.

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