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Murphy sentencing delayed amid allegations of juror misconduct

In bold, all caps letters, the message on John McMorris’ face mask Wednesday read “Justice for Andrew.”

It covered the Wading River man’s mouth as he made his way into the courtroom for the scheduled sentencing of the man convicted of killing his 12-year-old son in a September 2018 drunken driving crash in Manorville.

“We speak for Andrew,” were the words displayed over the face of his wife Alisa as she stood at his side, hopeful that Judge Fernando Camacho was moments away from sending Thomas Murphy of Holbrook to prison for years to come.

Justice, as the McMorris family and their supporters see it, would have to wait for another day.

Mr. Murphy’s sentencing was delayed Wednesday following allegations of juror misconduct from defense attorney Steven Politi. Judge Camacho scheduled a hearing on those allegations for Sept. 16.

Mr. Politi said Wednesday that after his client was convicted, he learned of “egregious misconduct,” among the pool of 18 jurors: 12 regular and 6 alternates. Those allegations, he said, were submitted in the form of affidavits from four jurors that were filed in a recent motion to set aside the verdict. Those affidavits were not immediately available Wednesday.

A ruling in favor of Mr. Politi’s motion would result in a new trial for Mr. Murphy, who appeared in court with his wife and left the courtroom quietly, his face mostly hidden behind a blue surgical face mask.

Mr. Politi addresses the media Wednesday. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Mr. Politi recalled Judge Camacho’s daily instructions to jurors to not discuss the case and to avoid media reports.

“Well the four jurors who signed statements indicated that not only did they discuss the case, but that none of them went and told the courts,” Mr. Politi said, adding that there are also allegations that jurors read media reports detailing the case. “My client did not get a fair trial.”

Judge Camacho also read aloud a letter he received from one juror, recounting a series of post-trial interactions with the defense.

The juror claimed that after returning home from a January shopping trip, she found a business card of a private investigator at her home, with Mr. Politi’s phone number written on the back.

“I can only assume that this investigator was looking for evidence of juror misconduct,” her letter read.

The letter writer said she did not believe she or any other juror was unfairly influenced, but Judge Camacho said the issues raised must be addressed during the September hearing.

The delay rocked the courtroom, which was filled, as it had been at trial, with supporters of the McMorris family.

Andrew McMorris on the morning he was killed. (Courtesy photo)

Speaking outside afterward, Alisa McMorris called the latest delay in sentencing, which had previously been placed on hold pending the resolution of motions filed at trial and the COVID-19 pandemic, “completely outrageous.”

“To put a victim’s family through this is unconscionable,” she said. “I will stand resolved and think of my boy and find strength to prepare again [through] another delay.”

Her husband called Wednesday’s developments “cruel, unusual and despicable.”

“We pray every day and embody Andrew’s spirit as much as we can to get us through this hell,” Mr. McMorris said. “But justice will prevail and we’re determined.”

“It’s mean. It’s just mean,” his wife added. “Give some honor back to your family and let Andrew rest in peace.”

Prosecutors said at trial that Mr. Murphy’s blood alcohol content was 0.13% after the Sept. 30, 2018 crash, when his Mercedes-Benz SUV veered off a Manorville roadway and struck a group of Boy Scouts, killing 12-year-old Andrew McMorris of Wading River and injuring three of his friends. The boys were out on a 20-mile hike at the time of the crash.

Thomas Murphy leaves court in December after the guilty verdict. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Prosecutors said Mr. Murphy, 61, spent that morning golfing and drinking vodka with friends at the nearby Swan Lake golf course in Manorville and a witness said that he turned down a ride home from a sober friend. Mr. Murphy refused to take a Breathalyzer test at the scene of the crash.

“That was the moment that changed everything,” assistant district attorney Raymond Varuolo said at trial last November. “From that point on, Mr. Murphy’s conduct was shockingly reckless.”

During the six-week trial last fall, Mr. Murphy’s defense team conceded that the crash was an “unavoidable tragic accident,” while arguing that the criminal case that followed was one built around an ever-evolving set of facts manufactured by prosecutors right up until the final hours of the trial.

Throughout the trial, Mr. Politi argued that Mr. Murphy’s blood was improperly drawn and tested in addition to claiming the scouts were poorly supervised as they hiked along David Terry Road in Manorville. He also claimed Mr. Murphy consumed no more than six ounces of vodka that morning and, due to his 350-pound frame, could not have been intoxicated.

On Wednesday, Mr. Politi said new witnesses came forward in February who claim to have seen the scouts walking in the roadway, a critical point of Mr. Murphy’s defense at trial.

“They had to swerve out of the way and they were surprised at the haphazard manner in which the group was walking down the public road,” Mr. Politi said.

Mr. Murphy, who was convicted last Dec. 18, has remained free on $500,000 bond since his October 2018 arraignment.