Defense calls into question the character of key witness in Murphy trial
A key prosecution witness came under intense scrutiny from the defense during cross examination Thursday on the third day of the trial of Thomas Murphy, the Holbrook man accused of killing a Wading River boy in an alleged drunken driving crash in Manorville last year.
Steven Meola, 58, of Queens, a longtime friend of Mr. Murphy’s who testified Wednesday that he had seen the defendant drinking while they golfed earlier that day and was concerned about him driving, took the stand for nearly three hours again Thursday. Defense attorney Steven Politi attempted to call into question his character and reliability as a witness in the case before Acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho.
Mr. Politi grilled Mr. Meola on everything from the size of the bottle of vodka brought by another friend to Swan Lake Golf Club on Sept. 30, 2018, to the amount of alcohol his friends consumed that day and even his personal posts on Facebook. Taking an often combative approach, Mr. Politi scrutinized Mr. Meola’s questionable behavior online and thirst for attention as he attempted to show that Mr. Meola and Mr. Murphy aren’t as close as he says.
“You knew that [Mr. Murphy] thought you were a perverted, disgusting animal, correct?” Mr. Politi asked at one point.
“No,” Mr. Meola began to answer before prosecutors objected to the question.
Mr. Meola testified that he and Mr. Murphy had never hung out alone and was unable to name any of Mr. Murphy’s three daughters by name.
Mr. Politi showed the jury a handful of memes Mr. Meola admitted to posting on social media, which the attorney described as racist, sexually explicit and offensive to women. He asked Mr. Meola, who testified that he is unemployed and had a revoked driver’s license, on several occasions if he was ever banned from Facebook.
“You’re banned because of the horrible, offensive, perverted, disgusting, disgraceful and depraved things that you post on Facebook, right?” Mr. Politi asked.
“No,” Mr. Meola replied. “Just stuff that goes against the community standards.”
“You don’t fit into this community right, Mr. Meola?” Mr. Politi shot back, prompting Judge Camacho to intervene.
“Stop, stop,” the judge said. “Let’s not go there.”
Mr. Politi also produced several explicit text messages between Mr. Meola and an unidentified woman. In one exchange she asks if he’s the star witness for the DA.
“…yes i am. me and my other 2 friends who were with us,” he responded.
During redirect questioning, Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern brought the focus back to the events of Sept. 30, when Mr. Murphy crashed his car into a pack of Boy Scouts, killing 12-year-old Andrew McMorris and severely injuring his friend Thomas Lane. Mr. Ahern asked a series of questions that pointed out how despite having a relationship with Mr. Murphy and having never before met any of the victims or their families, Mr. Meola was in the witness box testifying against someone he considered a friend. The line of questioning appeared to be designed to dismiss some of the details Mr. Politi asked Mr. Meola to recall as unimportant compared to what he saw as he rode as a passenger one car behind Mr. Murphy on David Terry Road that afternoon.
“When you said [earlier] you couldn’t sleep for a month, why?” Mr Ahern asked Mr. Meola.
“I kept reliving that moment of the accident in my head and I’d just wake up in a cold sweat,” the witness responded.
“Had you ever seen children in the condition that you found 12-year-old Andrew McMorris?” the prosecutor continued.
“No, sir,” Mr. Meola said.
“Can you get that image out of your head?” Mr. Ahern followed.
“Never,” he responded as he began to cry.
Outside of the courtroom Thursday, Andrew’s mother, Alisa McMorris, said all she can hear during the testimony is reminders of the accident.
“My baby screamed when he was hit and flailed his arms and landed,” she said in her brief remarks to reporters. “So when they say it happened so fast, it was enough for my baby to feel pain, scream in horror and then land.”
She then placed her hand over her heart and walked away.
Prosecutors have said a blood test of Mr. Murphy taken nearly four hours after the crash showed a blood alcohol content of .13. A toxicologist is expected to testify during trial that Mr. Murphy’s likely BAC was .19, more than twice the legal limit, at the moment of impact.
Mr. Murphy, 60, is facing a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Judge Camacho said that scheduling conflicts will prevent testimony from continuing before Tuesday. The trial is expected to last several more weeks.
Caption: Thomas Murphy leaves the courthouse in Riverside Thursday surrounded by family and other supporters. (Credit: Grant Parpan)