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Start of trial delayed in Scout’s death following emotionally charged day in court

10/08/2019 5:34 PM |

Testimony in the trial of a Holbrook man accused of killing a Wading River Boy Scout in an alleged drunken driving crash last year has been pushed back to November.

On Tuesday, the day jury selection was expected to begin in the case of 60-year-old Thomas Murphy, it was determined by Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho that due to a number of requests by the defense — and a concern by prosecutors that a witness will soon be traveling abroad — testimony will not begin until early next month.

Despite the delay, there was still plenty of drama on display in the courtroom Tuesday as Judge Camacho and attorney Steven Politi engaged in several heated exchanges over applications filed in defense of Mr. Murphy, who stands accused of striking and killing 12-year-old Andrew McMorris with his vehicle while the boy was on a hike with fellow Scouts in Manorville on Sept. 30, 2018.

Tuesday’s appearance, which included the start of a probable cause hearing — one of the final hurdles to clear before a jury is chosen, came one day after Mr. Politi filed a motion with the Appellate Court in Brooklyn asking for Judge Camacho to be removed from the trial. That matter has been adjourned until Oct. 30.

Mr. Politi has also requested that Judge Camacho recuse himself, though the judge made it clear he has no plans to do so.

“This case is not about me,” Judge Camacho said inside the courtroom. “It’s also not about Mr. Politi and it’s not about [Assistant District Attorney Brendan] Ahern. It’s about Mr. Murphy and it’s about [Andrew] McMorris.”

Mr. Ahern, the chief of the DA’s vehicular crime bureau, told Judge Camacho he believes it’s likely the defense’s motion to have the judge removed from the case will “be denied in its entirety.”

Prior to the start of the probable cause hearing Tuesday, Mr. Politi argued a series of applications over concerns the defense wanted addressed prior to the trial’s start. They mostly related to issues the defense felt might prohibit Mr. Murphy from receiving a fair trial.

Mr. Politi said he was concerned about Judge Camacho’s decision to move the case to a larger courtroom in Riverhead, saying the new location required his client to travel farther and is closer to the McMorris family’s home in Wading River. He said Mr. Murphy, who is facing a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, has health issues that make traveling difficult.

The move, which the judge said he anticipated from the beginning of the case, was to accommodate what he expects to be large crowds of supporters for the McMorris family. The new courtroom has 96 seats, allowing more than twice as many people to attend the proceedings.

Mr. Politi also raised concerns over the conduct and attire of individuals who might attend. He asked the judge to consider barring any Boy Scouts from wearing uniforms and requested that no one be allowed to wear clothing bearing Andrew’s likeness. He argued doing so might unfairly influence the jury.

Mr. Politi said he’s concerned for his client’s well-being, pointing to a Newsday article he said suggested that the McMorris family had urged supporters to make Mr. Murphy uncomfortable in court.

“There’s a lot of venom,” Mr. Politi said.


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Both Mr. Ahern and Judge Camacho scoffed at the suggestion of any improprieties by the McMorris family and their supporters.

“I’ve observed this group on numerous occasions acting with respect, courteousness and dignity,” Judge Camacho said. “I’ve not seen a single thing that’s inappropriate.”

Instead, the judge offered his disapproval of the conduct of both Mr. Murphy and his attorney during Tuesday’s proceedings. At one point the judge stopped his remarks to ask Mr. Murphy to “not make gestures.” It was unclear to the audience what the judge was referring to.

“I just feel like we’re being rushed,” Mr. Murphy responded. “That’s all.”

Judge Camacho also stood up at one point to ask Mr. Politi to leave the courtroom.

“This is now seven times,” Judge Camacho said in reference to the number of warnings he’d given Mr. Politi over his conduct during his applications. “Step out and take a deep breath.”

Prosecutors also made a request Tuesday, calling for a gag order barring attorneys and others associated with the case from speaking with the media. That motion was denied.

The Dunaway hearing, which is used to determine if evidence was seized from a defendant as a result of a search conducted without probable cause, will continue Wednesday. Jury selection is now expected to begin Thursday. Judge Camacho is also expected to rule on the latest and final round of pretrial motions Wednesday.

At Tuesday’s hearing, the arresting officer, Daniel Brecht of Suffolk’s Seventh Precinct, testified that Mr. Murphy admitted to having three drinks on the day of the crash after first admitting to having only one drink. Mr. Murphy also declined to take a breath test. Officer Brecht testified that Mr. Murphy had trouble keeping his balance during roadside sobriety tests and “it became clear he might fall over and hurt his head.” Mr. Politi argued his client’s weight may have impacted his ability to remain balanced.

When asked about his exchange with Mr. Murphy in the moments after arriving on scene the day of the crash, Mr. Brecht said Mr. Murphy repeatedly asked if the Scouts he struck were OK.

“I told him the truth,” Mr. Brecht said. “They were not OK.”

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