Onlookers, tucked into back corners of the overflowing courtroom, whispered to each other with each bit of moving testimony. A juror requested tissues to wipe away tears. Even members of the defendant’s family could be seen battling the emotions as John McMorris testified Thursday to the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2018, when he tended to his son in what would end up being the final hours of his young life.
Mr. McMorris’ testimony packed an emotional wallop in the final hour of the prosecution’s case against Thomas Murphy, the Holbrook man accused of driving drunk and crashing into a pack of Boy Scouts, killing 12-year-old Andrew McMorris and injuring several more of his friends.
“I ran as fast as I could,” a sobbing Mr. McMorris said of the moments immediately following the crash. “As soon as I passed the Jeep, I saw a boy on the ground.
“I was scared to death. I ran up to him and realized that it was my son.”
Mr. McMorris, who took the stand for more than an hour, became overcome with emotion as he was shown the last photograph taken of his son before the crash and was asked to identify the Boy Scout uniform his son wore as he lay face down on the ground, his two legs broken, blood “pooling on the ground beside him.”
“As I was taking care of my son dying before me, [Mr. Murphy] yelled ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! Are they OK? Are they OK? They’re going to be OK. They’re going to be OK. I yelled back, ‘No, they’re not going to be OK.’ ”
An assistant scoutmaster, Mr. McMorris said he was hiking at the back of the group of boys along with other parents when he heard, but could not see, the crash.
“The sounds I heard sounded as if a vehicle was hitting orange cones or garbage cans. Just thumps,” he told the jury, explaining that a jeep parked in the shoulder blocked his view from the impact.
Mr. McMorris was the final witness called by the prosecution in the aggravated vehicular homicide case against Mr. Murphy, who faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted on that top charge. The defense will begin calling witnesses Monday as the trial continues into its fifth, and possibly final, week.
When asked about Mr. Murphy’s appearance and speech in the chaotic moments of the crash, Mr. McMorris described him as “all over the place” and speaking with “mush mouth.”
“He slurred his speech,” the Wading River man said.
Mr. McMorris, who testified to his son’s love of flying, his gifts as a musician and the mature confidence he gained from scouting, was the latest person to testify that he did not see any of the scouts walking in the roadway prior to the crash.
Outside of the courtroom following Thursday’s proceeding, Alisa McMorris, Andrew’s mother, said it was the first time she ever heard her husband speak about his exchange with Mr. Murphy in those tense moments.
“This is the first time I’ve heard his whole story,” Ms. McMorris said as her 17-year-old daughter Arianna stood at her side. “It’s heartbreaking.”
At one point during his testimony, Judge Fernando Camacho asked Mr. McMorris if he wanted to take a break, as the 48-year-old school counselor cried while describing for the jury what he saw as he kneeled over his unconscious son.
“I can handle this,” he told the judge. “That’s all right. I can do it.”
Mr. McMorris said he last visited the scene of the crash on Tuesday.
“I wanted to see it again,” he told jurors.
Defense attorney Steven Politi lightly cross examined Mr. McMorris for just five minutes, concluding his questioning by remarking that he was sorry the dad had to testify.
“I’m sorry about what happened to your son,” Mr. Politi said.
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
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
As the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office rested its case Thursday, Mr. Politi made an application to the court to dismiss a majority of the charges. Beyond the controversial testimony of a toxicologist whose calculations regarding Mr. Murphy’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash needed to be struck from the record, Mr. Politi argued that the prosecution failed to make a case that two of the four scouts hit by his client’s SUV were injured and that his actions were improperly charged as reckless.
While Judge Camacho declined to immediately dismiss any of the charges against Mr. Murphy, he strongly suggested that four counts in the indictment — not the top charge — will be withdrawn when both sides return to court Monday.
Mr. Camacho was vigorous in his remarks to Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern, saying he should have previously been in possession of notes taken by Michael Lehrer, chief toxicologist at the Suffolk Medical Examiner’s Office, which will likely lead to the dismissal of those charges, including felony counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter and vehicular assault that relate specifically to a BAC of 0.18% or more, as well as a misdemeanor charge of aggravated DWI.
Mr. Lehrer testified Tuesday on the process of retrograde extrapolation, a scientific technique used to determine what someone’s blood alcohol content was at the time of an incident when their blood was drawn for testing at a later time. He told jurors Tuesday that using the BAC of 0.13% taking through a blood draw four hours after the crash and considering other factors, including Mr. Murphy’s weight, how recently he had eaten and the time of his most recent drink, he would have had a BAC of about 0.19% at the time of the crash, more than twice the legal limit. But the notes turned over Wednesday suggest that uncertainty calculations made by Mr. Lehrer showed Mr. Murphy’s BAC could have been closer to 0.17%.
Arguing against dismissing the charges, Mr. Ahern cautioned Judge Camacho on the effect such a remedy could have on future DWI cases if based on the notion that uncertainty values build in “reasonable doubt.” Mr. Ahern said those values are included with BAC evidence in every DWI case and if they served as reasonable doubt it would be difficult to convict people with 0.08% or 0.09% BAC.
The judge, raising his voice and even jumping up from his chair at one point, declined to back off his statement that the jury cannot be allowed to consider those charges given that uncertainty values considered by the “scientific community” provide a range for the blood alcohol to not meet the legal threshold.
“I don’t know why those counts are in this indictment,” he said. “They shouldn’t be.”
Speaking outside of the courtroom Thursday, Mr. Politi gave a hint of the direction of next week’s testimony, as the trial will turn into a defense case.
“My position is that my client’s sample never would register a 0.13% and all the other evidence in the case supports this,” he said. “My client simply could not have consumed enough alcohol at 350 pounds to ever get to a 0.13%. You’ll see why [it’s inaccurate] on Monday in court.”
Top Caption: John and Alisa McMorris share an embrace near the elevator of the Suffolk County courthouse in Riverside following his testimony Thursday. (Credit: Tara Smith).