The trial of Thomas Murphy came to an abrupt halt Friday afternoon after the defense raised a legal issue and the judge sent the jury home for the weekend as both sides worked to sort it out.
The jury was about to hear testimony from a police officer who was at the scene of the alleged drunken driving crash that led to the death of 12-year-old Andrew McMorris on Sept. 30, 2018.
“There’s an issue, a legal issue, that cannot be resolved now,” Judge Fernando Camacho told the jury inside his courtroom in Riverside. “It needs to be discussed further and it needs to be resolved before we can move forward.”
The jury was then asked to return to the courthouse Monday.
Outside of the courtroom both Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern and Mr. Murphy’s defense attorney Steven Politi declined to discuss the legal issue. Mr. Ahern briskly walked away from the media with Andrew’s mother, Alisa McMorris. He later returned to listen to Mr. Politi, who focused most of his remarks on concerns he has with the way the trial has been covered in the press.
“I’m not really going to be speaking about the legal issue in the court,” Mr. Politi said. “We kind of have an agreement that we’re going to try to resolve it before … it’s a private matter at this time between the attorneys and the court.
While Mr. Politi declined to say if the legal issue had anything to do with the next witness scheduled to testify, earlier Friday he publicly raised to Judge Camacho a legal issue related to the officer’s paperwork.
MORE TRIAL COVERAGE
Prior to the judge sending the jury home for the weekend, they did hear testimony from Denis Lane, now 17, one of several boys injured in the crash, which occurred on David Terry Road in Manorville, where the scouts were out on a 20-mile hike that afternoon.
Denis, wearing a red button-down shirt with a crucifix hanging below the neckline, testified that he had switched spots in line that afternoon with his younger brother Thomas, who was more seriously injured in the crash. He testified that friend Connor Blunnie was first in line that afternoon and as navigator was calling out “car” each time a vehicle passed.
“I looked up, I identified the car he was talking about, looked at it for a couple of seconds and didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary about it,” he said. “I went back to looking at my phone. I was playing around with my music and then [the vehicle] caught my eye as it went past Connor. It looked like the rear-view passenger side window missed Connor by less than six inches and then started to come over the fog line. Right before it struck Thomas is when I closed my eyes and kind of froze up.”
“The next time I opened my eyes, I was flat on my back on the ground,” he continued, his voice cracking with emotion as he finished that thought.
Denis said at the moment of impact he felt like he was “hit in the face with a baseball bat.”
The testimony was the first time the jury heard that any of the scouts were wearing ear buds on the day of the crash, something Denis said was against the rules of the hike. He said his brother Thomas, who witnesses have said was struck more directly by Mr. Murphy’s vehicle, was also listening to music.
Outside of the courtroom, Mr. Politi said that detail is an important fact in the case.
“Eight days into the trial we found out that two of the boys who were struck were wearing earbuds in violation of the rules … there was no supervision by the Boy Scout leaders,” he said. “The bottom line is this, and I’m not blaming the boys, these young boys were poorly supervised.”
Denis also testified to what he saw in the immediate aftermath of the crash as he opened his eyes to find himself laying partly on the grass, his legs in the shoulder of the roadway, his brother severely injured several feet away.
Mr. Politi also pressed Denis on where Andrew landed after he was struck by the vehicle, saying his testimony has differed in various statements he’s given. On Friday, the teen said Andrew landed on the side of the road, but Mr. Politi said that at a deposition for an ongoing civil trial Denis stated that Andrew landed in the middle of the road.
Speaking outside of the courtroom afterward, Ms. McMorris accused Mr. Politi of playing “a game” when suggesting her son landed somewhere other than where photographic evidence shows.
“We have a picture showing where they landed, we know where they landed, so we know [Mr. Murphy] was intoxicated. That’s what we know,” she said. “We can play this game … and it’s a game. What happened that day was horrific and nothing will change that. And when [Mr. Murphy] has to meet his maker, he doesn’t get a lawyer. He has to meet him by himself.”
Ms. McMorris called the testimony “heartbreaking.”
“When Denis saw the car coming, he knew it was coming, which means Andrew knew it was coming and he didn’t have time to get out of the way,” she said.
Moments earlier, with Ms. McMorris and her supporters standing behind him observing, Mr. Politi was critical of press coverage in the case, saying the reporting has focused on the emotions and not the facts being presented to the jury.
“My client did not leave the roadway,” he said. “My client was not intoxicated. My client did not drive recklessly. My client was involved in a very, very tragic, unfortunate car accident.”