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Thomas Murphy gets maximum sentence for killing Andrew McMorris in drunken driving crash

Two years to the day after killing 12-year-old Andrew McMorris in a drunken driving crash, Thomas Murphy was sent to prison.

Mr. Murphy, 61, was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum 8 1/3 to 25 years behind bars by acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho, who earlier that day denied a defense motion to vacate the conviction for alleged juror misconduct.

Mr. Murphy was convicted by a jury Dec. 18, 2019, on nine counts, including a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. He was driving drunk on David Terry Road in Manorville on the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2018, when he struck the Wading River boy and several other Boy Scouts who were out on a hike. Shortly after hearing the sentence Wednesday, Mr. Murphy’s wife, Jackie, fell to the floor and stated she could not breathe.

“I can’t even hug him,” Ms. Murphy said as her husband, who had been free on $500,000 bail, was led away in handcuffs.

Eight speakers took turns delivering victim impact statements from a jury box during the sentencing, often addressing Mr. Murphy directly as he sat looking straight ahead. He pulled his gaiter mask all the way up to his eyes, covering his ears. 

Andrew’s mother, Alisa McMorris, provided a harrowing account of the details from Sept. 30, 2018, and recalled the family’s final moments together.

“The deep pain is visceral and eternal,” she said. “I just feel broken. This is not a nightmare. It is my life.”

She spoke directly to Mr. Murphy about the decision he made when he got behind the wheel that afternoon.

“You have made a choice that intertwined our fates forever,” she said. “Justice in this case has no winners.”

Both Ms. McMorris and her husband, John, asked Judge Camacho to consider the maximum sentence and he obliged.

“Mr. Murphy senselessly took a life and sentenced us to a lifetime without our beautiful, loving boy,” Mr. McMorris told the court. 

Arianna McMorris addresses the media following Wednesday’s sentencing. (Credit: Tara Smith)

Andrew’s sister, Arianna, now 18, spoke of having to plan a funeral and vigils at just 16 years old and how Mr. Murphy’s actions stole her parents from her. The thought of her father witnessing what happened to his son, keeps her up at night, she said.

“In a way, closing this chapter is another piece of Andrew I’m losing,” Arianna said.

Judge Camacho said Mr. Murphy is solely responsible for the pain felt by so many.

“Thomas Murphy is not a horrible man, not a monster and not even an evil man,” he told the courtroom. “By all accounts Thomas Murphy led a decent, good life. I don’t doubt that. The message that needs to go out of this is there has to be consequences even for decent people.”

The judge told the McMorris family he prays they will find peace one day.

Three more Scouts — Thomas and Denis Lane and Kaden Lynch — were injured in the crash and one of them spoke Wednesday.

“To this day, I’ve been plagued with fear and rage,” said Denis, the less seriously injured of the brothers, as he delivered his victim impact statement. “I still cannot look my brother in the face without being reminded of that day.”

His mom, Colleen, said Denis’ injuries were not life-threatening, but rather “life-altering.”

“We have a new normal,” she said. “We’re OK, but we have been changed.”

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

Andrew McMorris’ grandfathers, James McMorris and William Schaefer, were among those who addressed Mr. Murphy Wednesday.

“Shame on you,” said Mr. Schaefer, Alisa McMorris’ father. 

“Those Scouts carry the pain of being alive while Andrew is not,” he said. “A pain no young person should ever feel.”

James McMorris recalled saying goodbye to his grandson and seeing his “mangled” body in a hospital bed. He called Mr. Murphy’s actions thoughtless and irresponsible.

“We are deprived of seeing the remarkable things Andrew would have accomplished,” he said. 

A friend of Andrew’s, a 14-year-old girl identified only as “E.C.” said she lost a “funny, nice, loyal” friend.

“The past two years have felt empty, there will be something missing in school, missing in sports, missing in our school plays …” she said. “It’s not fair that my friends and I are just kids and have to deal with this trauma.”

Defense attorney Steven Politi turned over to the judge more than 100 character reference letters on behalf of his client prior to the victim impact statements.

He told the judge his client still believes he was not intoxicated the day of the crash.

“My client cries every single day about this accident,” Mr. Politi said. “That’s what this was … his life ended two years ago, too.”

He added that Mr. Murphy would trade places with Andrew “in a heartbeat.”

The sentencing marked the end of a long and emotional process for both sides, though defense attorney Steven Politi said Mr. Murphy will continue to appeal his conviction.

The six-week trial — which included testimony from 26 witnesses and dozens of tense moments between the judge and defense — was followed by months of delays in the sentencing due to COVID-19 and, more recently, a hearing to determine if there was misconduct by the jury. Several jurors said in sworn affidavits obtained by a private investigator hired by the defense that they overheard other jurors discussing the case during the trial and that one juror loudly questioned the credibility of a defense witness. On Wednesday, just one day after that hearing concluded, the judge declined to grant Mr. Murphy a new trial and went straight to sentencing.

Mr. Murphy had been golfing at the nearby Swan Lake Golf Club the morning of the crash, when the three friends who accompanied him for the round said he drank vodka as he played. One member of the group, Steven Meola of Queens, said Mr. Murphy refused a ride from him as they headed home. The others testified that they did not believe he was intoxicated.

The defense instead blamed Mr. Murphy’s obstructed view of the roadway as he drove behind a larger SUV and a lack of supervision on the hike as reasons for the crash. At trial, Mr. Politi also 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 the attorney concluded could not have caused the 350-pound man to get drunk.

A previous attorney for Mr. Murphy had read several statements on behalf of his client in the months following the crash indicating that he would accept responsibility for the crash, suggesting that he might plead guilty, but he opted for a trial instead.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story referred to Denis Lane as being the more seriously injured of the Lane brothers. It was Thomas who, in fact, suffered the more serious injuries. And Denis’ first name was misspelled.