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Scientist who tested Murphy’s blood testifies it was over legal limit

12/02/2019 6:59 PM |

The jury heard testimony about key blood alcohol evidence Monday in the trial of Thomas Murphy, the Holbrook man accused of a drunken driving crash that caused the death of a 12-year-old Wading River boy and injured several of his friends in Manorville last year.

Jennifer Walsh, a forensic scientist in the toxicology department of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office, said two samples taken from a vial of Mr. Murphy’s blood were tested independently and showed a blood alcohol level of 0.13%, more than the legal limit of .08%.

His blood was taken at the 7th Precinct by physician assistant David Reed, also of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office, around 5:42 p.m on Sept. 30, 2018, nearly four hours after the crash.

A forensic toxicologist is expected to testify that Mr. Murphy, 60, had a blood alcohol content of closer to 0.19% at the time of the crash.

But according to defense attorney Steven Politi, the results could be skewed due to a disregard for protocols, including improper storage and contamination.

During examination by assistant district attorney Raymond Varuolo Monday, Mr. Reed testified that he collected two vials of Mr. Murphy’s blood, one containing 9.2 mL and the other containing 10.3 mL. He said the blood kit was sealed when he arrived at the 7th Precinct in Shirley and the vials each contained a powder mix of anticoagulant and preservatives to ensure the blood would not clot.

Mr. Reed said he followed standard procedure to close the vials and invert the mixture eight times to properly mix Mr. Murphy’s blood with the preservative.

But during cross examination, Mr. Politi questioned why Mr. Reed didn’t transport the specimen back to the Medical Examiner’s office himself.

“My responsibility is to obtain the sample … we do not transport the blood back to the lab,” Mr. Reed said, adding that their policy is to not let the kit out of their presence until it’s sealed and then hand it over to law enforcement.


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

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

Day 8: Arresting officer testifies that Murphy showed signs of intoxication following crash

Day 9: Two more officers testify that Murphy was intoxicated on day of crash

Day 10: Two detectives take witness stand at Murphy trial


Mr. Politi then questioned the integrity of the sample, citing a recall of vials manufactured by Becton Dickinson. Mr. Politi said the 2018 recall impacted vials that were manufactured without additive powders, but Mr. Reed said he always examines the vials before use to confirm they are not cracked and the additive is present.

Building on concerns raised last week, Mr. Politi reiterated that several hours lapsed between Mr. Murphy’s blood being drawn and it being placed into evidence in a refrigerated locker in Smithtown.

“If [blood] sits out for an hour or two, it doesn’t really affect anything,” Mr. Reed said.

The blood was tested the following morning by Ms. Walsh, who testified that she used a process known as headspace gas chromatography, the “gold standard” in the field.

To analyze Mr. Murphy’s blood, Ms. Walsh drew two subsamples from the first vial and placed them into a machine to separate components of the blood.

Volatile substances, including ethanol, which is the alcohol consumed by people, separate into gases above the liquid and are proportional to the amount found within the substance, Ms. Walsh testified.

The results showed 0.13% each time and were peer-reviewed by a colleague, she said, additionally testifying that she visually inspected the blood for clots and found none.

The reliability of the chromatography machine and Ms. Walsh’s scientific methods became the focus of Mr. Politi’s cross examination Monday afternoon.

He inquired as to whether the instrument had been maintained regularly and if there was any chance for “carryover,” which could lead to inflated results.

“You can see there’s no carryover,” Ms. Walsh said, referring to a worksheet she completed while conducting the tests that indicate she tested a volatile mix, controls, calibrator and blank samples before running Mr. Murphy’s blood, and the results were consistent for each.

Mr. Politi scrutinized graphs created as part of her analysis, which he argued shows a “tailing” peak, which could indicate, among other things, contamination.

Ms. Walsh disputed his claim.

“That is an acceptable, ideal peak,” she said.

Before testimony concluded, Mr. Politi raised several other points, including the margin of error for the chromatography method “even if everything was done properly” and questioning why a second vial of Mr. Murphy’s blood was not subject to testing at the Medical Examiner’s office.

Prosecutors say Mr. Murphy began drinking vodka while playing golf with friends at the Swan Lake Golf Club before crashing his white Mercedes into a group of Boy Scouts hiking along David Terry Road in Manorville, killing Andrew McMorris of Wading River.

He refused multiple requests for a chemical test after he was arrested, prompting a warrant to be issued to sample his blood.

Mr. Murphy has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment with a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide and could face a maximum of 25 years in prison.

The trial, which began Nov. 12 and has included 11 days of witness testimony, will continue Tuesday.

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