Murphy Trial

Arresting officer testifies that Murphy showed signs of intoxication following crash

The arresting officer in the case of Thomas Murphy, the man accused of driving into a pack of Boy Scouts last year, killing a 12-year-old Wading River boy, testified Monday that the Holbrook man had bloodshot eyes, the odor of alcohol on his breath and was unsteady on his feet at the Manorville crash scene.

Suffolk County Police Officer Daniel Brecht said those signs of intoxication led him to commence a series of field sobriety tests.

After completing the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus eye test, Mr. Brecht attempted to administer the walk and turn test, but ceased after he became concerned Mr. Murphy would fall.

Based on that concern, Mr. Brecht said he did not attempt to administer the portion of the test that would have required Mr. Murphy, 60, to stand on one leg.

Mr. Brecht testified that Mr. Murphy refused a preliminary breath test at the scene.

“His eyes widened,” he said, noting that Mr. Murphy then admitted to having three drinks.

At the seventh precinct, Mr. Murphy then refused to consent to a chemical test three times between 3:18 p.m. and 3:35 p.m., Mr. Brecht testified. During the second reading of the request, Mr. Brecht said he attempted to initial the third request line too, but Mr. Brecht had him cross it out.

“I really wanted to make sure he got a third reading … a chance to change his mind,” he said.

A blood warrant was subsequently issued to obtain a sample of Mr. Murphy’s blood, which prosecutors have said a toxicology expert will testify was 0.13% nearly four hours after the crash.

Upon cross examination, defense attorney Steven Politi alleged that Mr. Brecht improperly filed a “right of refusal” document to the Department of Motor Vehicles that resulted in the suspension of Mr. Murphy’s license.

The document states that it should not be completed if a compulsory blood test was given.

Mr. Brecht, who has been with the Suffolk County Police Department for four years, said it was an oversight on his part.

“I missed the fine print … I’ll admit that,” he said.


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

Day 4: Friends testify that despite drinking, Murphy did not appear drunk on day of crash

Day 5: Parents of surviving victims take stand

Day 6: Shoreham parent recounts moment of crash during testimony

Day 7: Jury sent home early as defense raises legal issue in Murphy trial

But Mr. Politi contends that Mr. Brecht committed perjury by filing a false statement and instrument to the state. The defense plans to appear before Suffolk County Judge Mark Cohen to request a special prosecutor be named to investigate Mr. Brecht’s conduct.

Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern, however, said it was an “innocent” mistake and outlined remedial steps they were taking.

“It’s not even remotely close to a crime taking place,” he said. “Mistakes and inconsistencies by witnesses don’t equal crimes.”

Mr. Politi also raised issues with gaps in Mr. Brecht’s field notes and the lack of video and audio recordings of Mr. Murphy’s interactions with officers at the precinct.

In his notes, for example, Mr. Politi pointed out that the officer did not record the asphalt patch with no fog line, an uninvolved Jeep parked on the side of the road, or the fact that Mr. Murphy was wearing spiked golf cleats instead of sneakers.

“[His notes are] awful,” Mr. Politi told reporters outside of the courtroom Monday afternoon. “It’s incomplete, it’s mistake-ridden.”

The defense has also argued that Mr. Murphy essentially passed the HGN portion of the test since he only displayed two out of six clues of intoxication — four or more clues indicate a level of intoxication above the legal limit of .08% — and that Mr. Murphy struggled with the physical component of the tests because of his weight.

Mr. Murphy has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment that includes a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

Alisa McMorris, whose son Andrew died from injuries he sustained in the crash, continued watching the eighth day of the trial in the gallery. At times, she clutched a necklace with a cross, airplane and pendant with Andrew’s fingerprint.

“I wear that and I hold it because I pray for justice,” she said. “I am staying exceedingly strong because my son had to. He faced that by himself and his father was there with him while he was taking his last breath.”

Cross examination of Mr. Brecht will continue Tuesday morning. Jurors will hear testimony in the case through Wednesday afternoon and break for the Thanksgiving holiday. Prosecutors indicated Monday that they could conclude calling witnesses by the end of next week.

Caption: Mr. Brecht reviews his notes from the crash outside the courtroom Friday. He was not called to testify until Monday and will remain on the stand Tuesday morning. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

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