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Man charged in Scout death almost fell during sobriety test, cop testifies

Thomas Murphy, second from right, walks into Suffolk

Thomas Murphy, second from right, walks into Suffolk County in Riverhead with his wife, Jackie, on Tuesday. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The Holbrook man charged with driving drunk and killing a 12-year-old Boy Scout refused a breathalyzer at the crash scene, almost fell over during a field sobriety test and admitted he had drank three alcoholic beverages, according to police testimony Tuesday.

Suffolk Police Officer Daniel Brecht, testifying at a probable cause hearing in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead, said he could smell the "strong odor" of alcohol on the breath of Thomas Murphy, 60, minutes after the Sept. 30, 2018, crash in Manorville that killed Andrew McMorris and left another Scout seriously injured. 

Brecht, testifying under questioning by prosecutor Brendan Ahern, said Murphy appeared "unsteady on his feet" and leaned against his damaged white SUV. Brecht, the arresting officer, said Murphy told him he was coming from the nearby Swan Lake Golf Club when he “hit the children by accident.” His eyes were bloodshot and his speech slurred, Brecht said.

Murphy, who told the officer he had a heart condition and in 2016 had undergone open heart surgery, agreed to a series of field sobriety tests, the officer said. But when asked to do a breath test, Brecht said Murphy's "eyes widened" and he declined. 

"He admitted to me he had three drinks and he knew he was going to be arrested," said Brecht, adding that Murphy also said "he didn't care what happened to him but he just wanted the kids to be OK." 

Murphy, who maintains his innocence, is set to go on trial on charges including aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a maximum penalty of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison. 

Under cross examination by Steven Politi, Murphy's defense attorney, Brecht said that no witnesses at the scene told him that Murphy was intoxicated.

Brecht, who said he observed two of the six possible clues of intoxication while performing one of the field sobriety tests on Murphy, also admitted that under testing standards, four or more clues indicate a driver would likely register a .08 or higher blood alcohol content. The legal limit is .08 and prosecutors have said Murphy registered a .13 BAC obtained from a blood warrant hours after the crash.

The officer testified that in another field sobriety test, which he called the walk-and-turn test, Murphy "began to fall over" and when he tried again he "couldn't keep his balance." 

Politi asked if the observation of just two clues showed his client passed, Brecht said: “it’s not a pass-fail test.”

Alisa McMorris, the mother of Andrew, attended the hearing, along with her teenage daughter and more than a dozen supporters. She left without commenting to reporters. 

Brecht also described racing to the scene of the crash on David Terry Road and watching emergency medical technicians "rushing towards the victims who were laying in the mud." 

Some of the victims were "holding their legs in pain." 

Andrew McMorris, Brecht testified, was unconscious and both his legs appeared broken. Another officer was already tending to Andrew, "trying to stabilize his head," so Brecht said he sought out the driver. 

He found a group of uninjured Boy Scouts and asked who was the driver in the crash, and "almost unanimously they all pointed to Mr. Murphy." 

Judge Fernando Camacho, who is presiding over the trial, denied a prosecution request to issue a gag order to prevent attorneys from speaking to the media. Politi called the request “laughable” given what he said was District Attorney Timothy Sini’s propensity to speak to the press. The hearing continues Wednesday.

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