Judge Fernando Camacho’s courtroom was filled to capacity Monday as more than 100 observers listened to nearly six hours worth of closing arguments in the aggravated vehicular homicide case against Thomas Murphy.
First they heard from the defense, which called the crash that caused the death of 12-year-old Wading River resident Andrew McMorris an “unavoidable tragic accident” and said the criminal case that followed was one built around an ever-evolving set of facts manufactured by prosecutors right up until the final day of testimony at trial.
Then the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office took its turn and said the Sept. 30, 2018, crash on David Terry Road in Manorville could have been avoided if Mr. Murphy accepted a friend’s offer to drive his car home that afternoon.
Now, following five weeks of testimony and a lengthy day of summations, a jury of seven men and five women is expected to begin deliberations in the case Tuesday. They’ll ultimately be asked to decide whether or not Mr. Murphy was drunk at the time he drove into a pack of Boy Scouts, killing Andrew and severely injuring one of his friends.
“Mr. Murphy decided to gamble,” assistant district attorney Brendan Ahern told jurors of the Holbrook man’s decision to get behind the wheel after drinking with friends at the nearby Swan Lake Golf Club. “He selfishly rolled the dice and the children lost everything.
“It’s time to hold him accountable for his crimes.”
But defense attorney Steven Politi, who repeatedly stated during his closing arguments that prosecutors failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, said they instead focused on “preying on” the emotions of the jury.
“No matter what your decision is, nothing is going to bring back Andrew,” Mr. Politi said. “Don’t compound that awful tragedy with another tragedy.”
Mr. Politi began his closing arguments by reminding jurors of assistant district attorney Raymond Varuolo’s claim during opening arguments that they would hear testimony in the trial from an accident reconstruction expert prosecutors ultimately decided against having take the witness stand. He suggested the decision to not call Suffolk County crime lab investigator Robert Genna and others on the witness list fits a pattern in the case of prosecutors changing course when circumstances might be beneficial to Mr. Murphy. He also painted two of the detectives as personal friends of the victims in the case.
“Has anything been fair to my client?” he asked at one point. “Not from minute one.”
Mr. Ahern said it wasn’t necessary to call Mr. Genna since Mr. Murphy’s own friends testified that the Scouts were walking in the shoulder and not in the roadway, as Mr. Politi suggested in his closing arguments. The defense blamed Mr. Murphy’s obstructed view of the roadway as he drove behind a larger SUV and a lack of supervision on the hike.
“They were walking shoulder to shoulder and they were in the street,” Mr. Politi said of the Scouts. “It’s not the kids’ fault … it’s the scoutmasters’ fault.”
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
Day 18: Testimony concludes in Murphy trial as exchange between judge and attorney gets heated
The defense was also critical of prosecution witness Steven Meola, the only one of three friends who went golfing with Mr. Murphy prior to the crash who said he believed Mr. Murphy was driving drunk. He called Mr. Meola a “degenerate” and a “loser” who has a track record of inappropriate behavior and can’t be trusted. He also urged jurors to remember that his client’s other friends, Chris DiMaria and Ray O’Brien, said they did not believe Mr. Murphy was intoxicated.
Mr. Politi questioned if the blood tested at the Suffolk County crime laboratory, where it registered a 0.13% blood alcohol content, even belonged to his client, saying police and prosecutors failed to present a clear chain of custody of the sample. He also noted that one of the instruments used during the blood test had expired one day earlier. He said the testimony from Mr. Murphy’s friends proved he drank no more than six ounces of vodka that morning, an amount that could not have caused the 350-pound man get drunk.
Mr. Ahern, who made his arguments with district attorney Timothy Sini in the audience, said Mr. DiMaria and Mr. O’Brien likely colluded to lie about how much vodka was in the bottle they drank at the course that day.
He also called the defense “twisted,“ saying they “aggressively” laid blame on everyone but Mr. Murphy during the trial. He likened the defense witness testimony regarding the expired instrument to saying a car wouldn’t work if it missed inspection.
“No amount of money should buy doubt,” Mr. Ahern told jurors near the end of his summation. “Your verdict is not for sale.”
Andrew’s father, John McMorris, reminded reporters outside the courtroom of a statement given by Mr. Murphy’s previous attorney that his client would take responsibility for what happened.
“That was taken away from us,” he said through tears. “We have to go through this torture and recount this horrible day over and over and over again. We can’t even begin to heal but we pray for justice for Andrew and for Troop 161.”
His wife, Alisa, called the process of going through a trial “grueling.”
“This could have been over,” she said before expressing gratitude for the work of prosecutors in the case.
Judge Camacho told the jury it would receive its instructions Tuesday morning before beginning deliberations.
Four of the 16 charges in the grand jury indictment have already been dismissed – following the revelation that a witness from the Suffolk County Crime Lab failed to turn over notes that impacted those charges and his testimony. Judge Camacho said last Friday that he will likely not ask the jury to consider a misdemeanor assault charge as well. He’ll meet with the attorneys in the case for one last round of legal arguments prior to charging the jury.
Caption: Mr. Politi speaks with reporters during a break in closing arguments Monday. (Credit: Grant Parpan)