The Suffolk County district attorney's office said Thursday a defense request for a special prosecutor should be denied in the case of a Holbrook man accused of driving drunk and killing a 12-year-old Boy Scout, arguing it has done nothing improper or unethical to prevent a fair trial.
"The prosecution has not engaged in a publicity campaign against [the] defendant," Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern, chief of the Vehicular Crime Bureau, wrote in his response Thursday. "The District Attorney's office has never disseminated inaccurate facts about the defendant's case, although defense counsel has repeatedly conducted on-camera interviews where he disseminated false information."
Defense attorney Steven Politi, in a motion filed Tuesday, asked that Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini’s office be removed from prosecuting the case against Thomas Murphy, 60, because it has “closely aligned” itself with the victim’s family and had made "misleading and inaccurate" statements about his client. Politi said the actions "poisoned" the potential pool of jurors in his client's upcoming trial.
Murphy has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment containing charges including aggravated vehicular homicide, assault and driving while intoxicated in the Sept. 30, 2018, crash in Manorville, which left Andrew McMorris dead and another Scout from Troop 161 seriously injured.
Suffolk County Supervising Judge Mark Cohen has said he would rule on Politi’s motion for a special prosecutor on Friday. Cohen earlier denied Politi’s request for a delay to the start of the trial, scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Cohen indicated earlier this week he was particularly interested in hearing answers from the prosecution on two allegations from Politi.
Politi claimed Ahern and another prosecutor participated in evidence collection at the crash scene, which meant they would have to be witnesses. He also claimed a man who was with Murphy at the time of the crash had told prosecutors Murphy was not intoxicated, and that the prosecution failed to tell the defense about him, as required.
Ahern, in his 12-page response, denied that he and the other prosecutor engaged in evidence collection and said they were on-scene to provide police with “legal counseling” regarding the investigation. Ahern also said it was Murphy’s earlier attorney who mailed prosecutors an undated letter from Murphy’s wife claiming that the man said the defendant, who had been playing golf at a local club, “was fine” before the crash.
Ahern also disputed Politi's claims that the relationship between his office and the McMorris family was anything other than professional, noting that as the lead prosecutor he has had to explain the “complex process of the criminal justice system to many individuals, including children, who have never before had any cause to be exposed to the criminal justice process, encouraging the victims to remain positive."
Ahern also said when the McMorris family recently participated in an anti-drunken driving campaign to high school students, which Politi criticized as creating the appearance of his client’s guilt in the case, they spoke “about their pain and encouraged the children to make smart choices and protect one another.”
Ahern added: “Many of the students in attendance were not old enough to serve on jury duty.”
Ahern’s letter also notes that McCarthy’s previous attorney had “conveyed” that his client was “seeking a plea deal” and had provided “good guy” letters to the court “in the hope of a securing a favorable plea offer.”
Ahern said the DA’s office provided the judge with 176 letters in support of the victims and their families in response to a defense request for a plea deal. He added that no one in his office “ever urged or requested the production of these letters from the community, much less as part of a campaign to either improperly influence the trial judge or otherwise deprive defendant of a fair trial.”
But, Ahern noted, "no plea offer has ever been tendered by the District Attorney's Office.”