Daniel Blunnie’s voice trembled in court Thursday as he gave his account of the Sept. 30, 2018 hike that turned tragic.
Mr. Blunnie, a Shoreham resident, said he remembers the day “very well,” not just because of the crash that claimed the life of 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, but because it was his son Connor’s 14th birthday.
As they hiked along David Terry Road in Manorville, Mr. Blunnie testified that he was the first adult in the single file line and his son led as the group’s navigator. Many of the older boys wore 50-pound hiking packs in preparation for a 125-mile hike at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Mr. Blunnie said, explaining why the adults hiked behind them.
“It’s more of less to train the boys to be leaders,” the assistant scoutmaster said.
He then described the moment Mr. Murphy’s SUV crashed into the scouts.
“[The vehicle] went straight over the [fog line] and into the crowd of boys,” Mr. Blunnie said.
He testified that he saw the vehicle strike Andrew and 16-year-old Denis Lane, causing their bodies to “bounce” from the hood and windshield area of Thomas Murphy’s vehicle. Several other boys, he said, were in a “pile,” on top of Thomas Lane, who suffered fractures in his orbital bone, both legs, nose and ankle.
Initially, Mr. Blunnie said the vehicle caught his attention because he thought the vehicle was moving “a little quicker” than other cars that had passed the group.
That statement fueled an uproar by Mr. Murphy’s defense team, who sought to file for a mistrial on the sixth day of the trial before Judge Fernando Camacho in Riverside. Mr. Murphy, 60, of Holbrook is facing a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide.
During a break without Mr. Blunnie or the jury present, attorney Steven Politi erupted, arguing that Mr. Blunnie’s testimony about the vehicle’s speed was “muddying” issues for the jury.
He said the issue of speed should have never entered the courtroom.
“What happened in here today is the very definition of not getting a fair trial,” he said.
Both parties have stipulated that speeding would not be weighed as a factor in the case and the jury had already been advised to not consider speed when they decide the case.
MORE TRIAL COVERAGE
Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern argued that prosecutors had no intention of eliciting testimony about Mr. Murphy’s speed and said an accident reconstruction expert would later confirm that the incident was not consistent with a high-speed crash.
Judge Camacho denied the motion and said there’s no basis for a mistrial at this point.
“It is such a drastic remedy,” he said, adding that “highly egregious conduct” would be necessary to warrant a mistrial with prejudice.
Back in the courtroom during cross examination, Mr. Politi pressed Mr. Blunnie on whether or not the route back to Shoreham-Wading River High School was considered a “shortcut.”
“You wanted to get home so [Connor] could go and open presents, right,” Mr. Politi asked, to which Mr. Blunnie replied yes.
He attempted to poke holes in Mr. Blunnie’s testimony, questioning why no tire mark appeared in the dirt, and why Mr. Blunnie, who had earlier testified that he smelled the odor of alcohol when he briefly approached Mr. Murphy, did not report that to police in a statement given to detectives approximately 50 minutes after the crash. Mr. Politi also questioned why he didn’t tell detectives that he witnessed Mr. Murphy’s vehicle swerve off the roadway.
Mr. Blunnie said the statement he gave detectives was “brief” and maintained that the scouts walked single file in a safe manner along the roadway.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom, Andrew McMorris’ mother, Alisa, described the trial as a “surreal” experience so far.
“It’s like I’m sitting and watching a horrible movie,” she said. “Every time testimony happens, I’m reliving my son’s last moments. It’s hard.”
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATOR TESTIFIES
Earlier Thursday, a Suffolk County police officer assigned to the crime scene section testified about how evidence was gathered at the scene of the crash near 20 David Terry Road in Manorville.
Officer William Sullivan, who arrived at the location around 3:26 p.m., reviewed dozens of photos and video footage taken at the site that depict damage to Mr. Murphy’s Mercedes-Benz and eight pieces of evidence taken in the case.
In photos and a video, the passenger’s side mirror can be seen hanging off of the vehicle, which also showed damage to the front quarter panel, bumper, wheel well and windshield.
Several car parts found in the grass and less than five centimeters away from the fog line on the roadway were documented as evidence, Mr. Sullivan said, in addition to two plastic water bottles, one of which appeared to be bloodstained.
Based on measurements taken at the scene, Mr. Sullivan also created a diagram that maps out where Mr. Murphy’s vehicle was in relation to the evidence collected and other aspects of the roadway.
Mr. Politi, however, said key details including a Jeep parked on the side of the road and asphalt area where the white fog line wasn’t continuous, were omitted from the diagram.
He cast doubt on the officer’s experience in the role and probed why certain items were documented as evidence at the direction of a lead detective at the scene.
“That’s how it works,” Mr. Sullivan replied, adding that his section serves as “an arm of” the detective division.
Mr. Politi implied that in the time it took Mr. Sullivan to respond, evidence may have been tampered with at the scene, where law enforcement, civilians and members of the District Attorney’s office were already present.
Testimony is expected to continue Friday.