A juror misconduct hearing in the case against Thomas Murphy has been adjourned until Sept. 29, the latest delay in the Holbrook man’s sentencing following his aggravated vehicular homicide conviction nine months ago.
The latest holdup came when a juror was denied entry into the courthouse this week for failing a COVID-19 screening. The juror, who will be the last witness to give testimony, was sent home after disclosing that someone he lives with had recently traveled out of state.
Judge Fernando Camacho said that while he has used video conferencing for arraignments and even sentencing in other cases, he was not comfortable allowing the juror to give testimony remotely. He denied motions by defense attorney Steven Politi to allow the video appearance on both Thursday and Friday.
“Every other juror sat here and looked [us] in the eye … under very stressful circumstances,” the judge said of the testimony given between Wednesday and Friday by the other 11 jurors and five alternates from the trial that concluded in December.
Judge Camacho said, “It would be very difficult” to read body language and gestures through a television in the courtroom. He also suggested that a witness testifying remotely could be influenced by someone off screen.
Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern said he also objected to allowing the juror testify through video conference, citing concerns over the conduct of a private investigator hired by the defense.
On Wednesday, Juror No. 8 claimed there were inaccuracies in her sworn statement written by Joseph Cornetta, the private investigator hired by Mr. Politi earlier this year. She said the statement was taken after Mr. Cornetta interviewed her at her vacation home in Virginia, but there were ultimately differences between what was read back to her and what she ended up signing.
The woman said she made a mistake by not carefully reading the final affidavit before signing the document. “I’m a linguist,” she said. “And there are phrases in here I never would have used.”
Several jurors also testified that Mr. Cornetta suggested a lengthy prison sentence could exacerbate Mr. Murphy’s health conditions.
The Sept. 29 hearing date should bring to a close the proceedings and would likely be the final appearance before sentencing. Judge Camacho told both attorneys to be prepared to make oral arguments after the final juror testifies and he told Defense Attorney Steven Politi that will likely the last opportunity he’ll have to make an oral argument.
In December, Mr. Murphy was convicted on nine counts for his role in the 2018 crash that killed 12-year-old Wading River resident Andrew McMorris and injured three other Boy Scouts he had been hiking with along David Terry Road in Manorville. The sentencing has faced several delays due to the pandemic. He is facing a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison, with a minimum of between one and three years on the aggravated vehicular homicide charge.
One juror and two alternate jurors testified this week they had overheard comments made about witness testimony before deliberating. Thirteen more jurors testified that they had not engaged in or overheard such discussions.
On Friday, one juror testified that a female juror had seen a Newsday cover while on break in the juror lunchroom that showed several charges had been dropped in the case while the trial was underway. She told a cafeteria staffer to keep the newspaper away from the other jurors, the man said.
On Wednesday, alternate Juror No. 1, referenced comments made by a male juror that he had heard certain charges against Mr. Murphy had been dropped after reading a newspaper report.
That juror, who also testified Wednesday, denied those claims. “I didn’t watch the news or read the newspaper,” he said from the stand.
Another alternate juror testified Wednesday that he overheard Juror No. 2, who has a science background, make comments disputing scientific claims made by Dr. Jimmie Valentine, an expert forensic toxicology witness called by the defense.
During her testimony, Juror No. 8 referenced comments made by Juror No. 2 such as “That can’t be” or “That isn’t right,” and body language like rolling his eyes that could have suggested he disagreed with the witness.
The woman spent a lengthy amount of time on the stand, recalling “a handful” of incidents where she and other jurors “shushed” their peers if someone began discussing the case.
She said she didn’t consider those instances to be conversations that would have impacted her overall view on the case. “I think the jurors tried hard to maintain the integrity of the process,” Juror No. 8 said.
On the stand, Juror No. 2 denied Thursday that he expressed any opinions about Dr. Valentine’s testimony, but said it’s possible that his body language may have inadvertently.
At times, the juror testified, a box of tissues was passed around a back room as testimony in the trial grew emotional. He assured that despite the “mood” of the room, nothing specific was discussed and the panel reminded each other that they were there to weigh the facts in the case.
Of the allegations about Mr. Cornetta, Mr. Politi said there was nothing improper about the way meetings with jurors were conducted at the close of trial.
Mr. Politi said Thursday that while he understands the emotional gravity of the case, he’s seeking to represent his client fairly. “This is a country that affords people rights and all I’m trying to do is make sure my clients’ rights are protected,” he said.
For the McMorris family, the continued delay is unbearable, they said.
“This jury misconduct is just a deception — he’s muddying the waters,” Andrew’s father, John, told reporters Thursday.
His wife, Alisa, echoed that idea.
“We had a trial and the facts were revealed,” she said. “They were deliberated by jurors and a decision was made on Dec. 18 … Andrew didn’t get a second chance