Friends testify that despite drinking, Murphy did not appear drunk on day of crash

11/19/2019 8:15 PM |

Two of Thomas Murphy’s close friends testified Tuesday that they did not believe the Holbrook man was drunk when he struck a pack of Boy Scouts while driving in Manorville last year, killing one and severely injuring another.

The testimony of Chris DiMaria of Holbrook and Ray O’Brien of Maspeth about how Mr. Murphy behaved after having drinks at Swan Lake Golf Club on Sept. 30, 2018, differed from prior testimony given by the fourth man in their group that day. Steven Meola of Astoria, the one friend who did not drink that morning, testified last week that he believed Mr. Murphy to be unsteady on his feet and slurring his speech and that he did not think his friend was sober enough to drive in the moments before the crash that claimed the life of 12-year-old Andrew McMorris of Wading River.

But on the trial’s fourth day before Judge Fernando Camacho in Riverside, Mr. DiMaria, who admitted to bringing some of the vodka the three friends shared during the round of golf they played, and Mr. O’Brien testified that Mr. Murphy showed no visible signs of intoxication that day.

“If I was concerned … and aware of his condition, I wouldn’t have let him drive,” said Mr. DeMaria, who described himself as a close friend of Mr. Murphy for more than 30 years.

In his cross examination of Mr. O’Brien, defense attorney Steven Politi asked if based on his earlier testimony the Queens man believed none of the three friends “was exhibiting signs of intoxication” at the golf course.

“Yes, that’s correct,” he said.


MORE TRIAL COVERAGE

Day 1: Prosecutors say Murphy turned down ride from sober friend moments before fatal crash

Day 2: Text messages, friend’s testimony tell a story of day of Scout crash

Day 3: Defense calls into question the character of key witness in Murphy trial


Among the evidence prosecutors have used to attempt to prove Mr. Murphy was drunk is a pair of videos he shot on the golf course that day.

Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern played both clips Tuesday, as he had previously done when Mr. Meola took the witness stand last week. The first video shows Mr. O’Brien dancing, before panning to Mr. DiMaria as he does the robot.

“That’s my boy, love it,” Mr. Murphy says in the clip. “Go ahead, Chris. I love this. My two [expletive], besides Joey, my two [expletive] buddies.”

While Mr. Meola testified that he believed Mr. Murphy slurred his speech in each of the two clips, Mr. DiMaria said he did not. Mr. O’Brien then testified that he could “hear a very slight slur” in the clips.

“I’ve heard him talk when he’s inebriated and that’s not even close,” Mr. O’Brien testified.

Mr. DiMaria and Mr. O’Brien also gave a shorter time frame for the drinking that occurred that day, saying Mr. DiMaria poured the first drink around the 10th hole. Mr. Meola had stated that the drinking might have started as early as the third hole. Each of the three men stated that the bottle of vodka Mr. DiMaria had in his golf bag was about one-thirds full, though the size of the bottle has been a source of contention.

On Tuesday, Mr. Ahern showed Mr. DiMaria a 1.75 liter bottle of vodka and asked if it was the same size bottle as the one at the course that day, to which he said yes, but “not with 100% certainty.” Mr. Politi was quick to point out that the men had previously described the bottle to investigators as the size of a wine bottle. A standard wine bottle is 750 milliliters.

Mr. DiMaria said that after the men finished the bottle, Mr. Murphy bought each of them an airplane sized bottle of vodka. They mixed each of the drinks they had that day with iced tea or Gatorade and had ice in the cups, he said.

Mr. Ahern also questioned Mr. DiMaria and Mr. O’Brien about their own behavior following the crash, including their decision to leave the scene of the accident soon after police arrived, meetings they had both with and without Mr. Murphy in the days following the crash and Mr. DiMaria’s decision to retain an attorney for himself.

“I had a few drinks myself and I just wanted to move on,” Mr. DiMaria, a retired FDNY firefighter who was also briefly a police officer, said of the decision to leave as a patrolman questioned their friend at the David Terry Road crash scene.

“Were you scared?” Mr. Ahern asked.

“Yes,” he responded.

While the role alcohol might have played in the crash was disputed by Mr. Murphy’s friends Tuesday, jurors will soon hear from the arresting officer and a toxicologist who are both expected to testify at trial that he was drunk.

Prosecutors have previously said a blood test of Mr. Murphy taken nearly four hours after the crash showed a blood alcohol content of .13. The toxicologist is expected to testify that Mr. Murphy’s likely BAC was .19, more than twice the legal limit, at the moment of impact.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Andrew’s mother, Alisa McMorris, said of the testimony Tuesday that “none of it matters.”

“What matters is he had a .13 blood alcohol level [nearly four hours] after they killed my child,” she said. “I hear [Andrew’s] scream echoing in my head every time.”

Prosecutors will call new witnesses Wednesday and the trial is expected to last several more weeks.

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.

FACEBOOK COMMENTS ADDRESSED

Prior to the jury entering the courtroom, Judge Camacho, at Mr. Politi’s request, directed prosecutors to subpoena Facebook for the identity of certain individuals who the attorney alleged posted threatening messages against him.

“Over the weekend, even though I don’t really care and I don’t look at these things because the people who write them are idiots, there’s been countless death threats against me,” Mr. Politi told Judge Camacho. “If the people have the subpoena power [to subpoena Facebook] maybe they can identify [the commenters].”
He pointed to one post, in which someone wrote that they hope the attorney’s family gets hit by a vehicle, as particularly troubling.

“I’d ask [the DA’s office] to take the time to investigate these animals,” he said.

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