Five weeks and 25 witnesses later, the final piece of testimony was given in the vehicular homicide trial of Thomas Murphy Friday — on a day that saw tensions run high in the courtroom.
The jury is expected to hear closing arguments Monday, the final step before they are given instructions and begin to deliberate on a verdict in the case against the 60-year-old Holbrook man, who faces up to 25 years in prison for allegedly driving drunk and crashing into a group of Boy Scouts, killing one and seriously injuring another.
“We’re almost there,” Judge Fernando Camacho told jurors at the conclusion of Friday’s proceeding, which included the testimony of a pair of expert witnesses and a particularly heated exchange between the judge and defense counsel.
Janine Arvizu, a self-employed lab quality auditor from New Mexico who frequently appears as a consultant for attorneys in DWI cases, appeared as the second and final defense witness, testifying to discrepancies she found in lab reports related to a blood test included in the case file. Ms. Arvizu, whom prosecutors painted as a hired gun whose sole source of income is consulting for attorneys, almost always on behalf of the defense, said she was hired as a consultant Wednesday after testifying in a different case out of state. She told jurors she arrived in New York around 10:30 p.m. Thursday and worked until the early morning hours reviewing lab reports and other witness testimony from the trial, concluding that the records contained “inconsistencies” that lead her to believe the blood alcohol tests were inaccurate.
During the trial, prosecution witnesses have testified to Mr. Murphy having a blood alcohol content of 0.13% from a blood sample taken four hours after the crash, but Ms. Arvizu questioned the accuracy of those results based on her audit of lab reports filed on behalf of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office.
“The records do not demonstrate that the quantity or concentration of ethanol reported by the laboratory was accurate,” she told jurors during direct examination from defense attorney Steven Politi.
Among the concerns raised by Ms. Arvizu were discrepancies in the times samples were tested — something prosecutors attempted to chalk up to a time zone difference between the local crime lab and the international company that produces the report — and issues with the equipment used to transport blood from a vial to the machine used in the testing.
Ms. Arvizu said one of the dispensers had expired the day before the test and the other was not properly documented on the report filed by lab personnel.
“It’s absolutely essential that every piece of equipment used to make a measurement be documented,” she said.
Ms. Arvizu also testified to what she described as low levels of a liquid added to the sample to ensure precision in the tests, which she said could have skewed the blood alcohol results.
Speaking outside of the courtroom, Mr. Politi said his witness demonstrated for the jury that the lab results “can’t be trusted.”
“Because their methods can’t be trusted,” he said.
It was during a break in cross examination that Judge Camacho and Mr. Politi engaged in a verbal altercation that nearly led the judge to hold the attorney in contempt, something he said earlier in the trial he had never done in more than 20 years on the bench.
Moments after the jury left the courtroom, court officers surrounded Mr. Politi when he began to speak following a warning from Judge Camacho that “one more word” would force him to hold him in contempt. Mr. Politi had been publicly lamenting the judge’s decision to grant a five-minute break to prosecutors soon after a prior break that stretched to nearly an hour.
“I just want to make sure I have my references correct,” Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern told the judge while cross examining Ms. Arvizu on the time discrepancies in the report. “It’s too critical.”
But Mr. Politi accused the judge of affording prosecutors extra time to “get their stories straight.”
“How dare you?” the judge shot back, rising from his seat and raising his voice beyond what he had during the several other fiery exchanges he’s had with Mr. Politi at trial. “That’s outrageous.”
Judge Camacho pointed to several delays by the defense, including days-long breaks for attorneys to prepare for witnesses and for Mr. Murphy to attend doctor’s appointments. During his outburst, which Mr. Politi asked the court reporter to describe as “screaming,” Judge Camacho revealed that Mr. Ahern has been battling an undisclosed health issue that the judge said has forced him to check in and out of a hospital for treatment during the trial.
“The fact that the man is even standing up is a miracle,” Judge Camacho shouted at Mr. Politi while pointing to Mr. Ahern, who declined to comment on the apparent health issue.
Mr. Politi quietly apologized to the judge following the break and the case continued without any additional interruptions.
“I’m trying to represent my client as best I can and sometimes I get a little animated and sometimes I get a little upset and, you know, that’s just me,” the attorney later told reporters.
At one point during the exchange, one of Mr. Murphy’s daughters stood up and left the courtroom in tears.
COMPLETE 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
Day 11: Scientist who tested Murphy’s blood testifies it was over legal limit
Day 12: Toxicologist: Murphy’s BAC was twice legal limit; ordered to turn over notes
Day 13: Several charges could be withdrawn in case against Thomas Murphy
Day 14: Scout’s dad says ‘I ran as fast as I could’ to help son following crash
Day 15: Murphy defense begins to make its case as judge officially dismisses four charges
Day 16: Prosecutors to call counter witness as end of Murphy trial nears
Day 17: Another delay in Murphy trial as jury sent home early Thursday
As expected, prosecutors also called Lee Polite, the founder and president of Axion Analytical Labs in Chicago as a counter witness. He offered a rebuttal to defense testimony given by colleague Jimmie Valentine, a forensic toxicology expert who told jurors there are several possibilities that could have caused Mr. Murphy’s blood alcohol content to register at 0.13% hours after the crash on David Terry Road in Manorville, which claimed the life of 12-year-old Wading River resident Andrew McMorris.
Mr. Valentine told jurors Monday that it’s possible microorganisms could grow and prompt fermentation to occur in a sample, turning blood sugars into alcohol and thus inflating the blood alcohol reading. He said 0.05% of alcohol can be produced for every 100 milligrams of glucose in blood as a result of fermentation, which could theoretically account for a portion of Mr. Murphy’s test result.
But Mr. Polite said he disagreed with Mr. Valentine’s testimony and said a chart the witness prepared using the lab results lacked certain variables that could have assured accuracy.
He told jurors the lab’s reported results are “reliable.”
“I believe that,” he said.
Speaking outside the courtroom Friday evening, Alisa and John McMorris, Andrew’s parents, showed reporters a pair of their son’s glasses they carried with them.
“We want everyone to see through a clear lens and not get clouded,” Ms. McMorris said.
“We’re here to speak for Andrew, to walk for Andrew,” her husband added through tears. “He can’t do that for himself.”
Top Caption: Mr. Murphy speaks with his defense team and Ms. Arvizu, far right, outside the courthouse during a break Friday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)