Time is running out for a Holbrook man charged with killing a Boy Scout while driving drunk to make good on his promises to take responsibility for what he did, a Suffolk judge told him Tuesday in a courtroom crowded with the boy's family and friends.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho's warning to defendant Thomas Murphy came before a Central Islip courtroom filled with more than 100 supporters of Andrew McMorris, 12, many of them there in response to an emotional email seeking support from the boy's parents, John and Alisa McMorris. The case was moved from Camacho's usual courtroom to a larger one to accommodate the crowd.
"We do not want ANY court appearances by that man to be comfortable …," the parents wrote to supporters last month. "It is recommended to have as many people attend as possible. We have been told [by friends] not to underestimate the power and impact of our attendance in court."
Many of those who came carried photos of Andrew at various stages of his life — as an infant, a toddler, a Boy Scout and as a preteen learning how to fly, one of his passions.
When Murphy's case was called, Camacho made clear he did not appreciate the McMorris family being strung along by Murphy's repeated promises to take responsibility for his actions. Those promises, however, have stopped short of saying he intends to plead guilty.
"I believed you," Camacho told Murphy, 60. "At this point, I must tell you I'm out of patience. … I will not have it." Murphy did not react.
Camacho told Murphy that if he wants to spare the McMorris family the protracted pain of a trial and potentially years of appeals, he can plead guilty on May 2. If not, Camacho said the trial will begin in June. Murphy is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, assault, driving while intoxicated and other crimes. The top charge carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Murphy's attorney, Stephen McCarthy Jr. of Manhattan, read a statement on behalf of his client afterward.
"Each time we come to court, there is a tremendous outpouring of support and solidarity from the community for the McMorris family," the statement said. "My family and I hope and pray that this helps those affected by this tragedy to heal, especially the McMorris family. I ask, respectfully, that those who come to court allow myself and my family the time to fully evaluate my case, and my role in this tragic accident."
McCarthy said later his client hasn't had as much time as it seems to consider his options.
"I have tremendous respect for Judge Camacho," McCarthy said. "His obligation, to the family and to the court, is to move the case with all deliberate speed. In all fairness to Mr. Murphy, today was the first day that a formal plea agreement had been conveyed to him."
Andrew's parents said Murphy is failing to live up to his promises.
"What this man is doing is not honorable," Alisa McMorris said, referring to the Scouts' code of honor. "We need justice, and we're willing to accept it. He needs to accept his earthly consequences. … In the beginning, we believed him."
John McMorris, wearing his Scoutmaster uniform, said the case affects the larger community beyond his own family. "This was an assault on the Boy Scouts of America," he said.
At Murphy's arraignment in October, Assistant District Attorney Jacob DeLauter said witnesses reported that Murphy began drinking vodka almost as soon as he arrived at the Swan Lake Golf Club in Manorville about 9 a.m. on Sept. 30.
"He drank a large amount of vodka until he was intoxicated," DeLauter said then. A blood sample drawn as a result of search warrant hours later showed a 0.13 percent blood alcohol content, DeLauter said. Forensic toxicologists estimate it was 0.19 percent at the time of the crash — more than double the legal standard of 0.08 percent.
After Murphy's group finished playing golf, DeLauter said one of the men was concerned enough to offer Murphy a ride. But DeLauter said Murphy declined and drove off unsteadily.
A mile and a half from the clubhouse, DeLauter said Murphy drove completely off David Terry Road and plowed into a group of 18 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 161. Andrew McMorris died the next day from his injuries. Another Scout, Thomas Lane, 15, suffered several broken bones.
Excerpts of a letter to supporters from Andrew McMorris’ parents:
“The days are long and the nights are longer as we begin this journey without our boy. … All of us are seeking counseling, and we encourage all of you to seek out a trusted person to talk with to help you navigate this new territory. It will get harder before it gets better.”
“The worst thing for us is when it feels like no one wants to say his name or tell us a story about him. We want him to live on in our legacy as a family and that means having pictures up, looking at videos and telling others about the tragedy and about his life.”
They asked that Andrew’s older sister, Arianna, 17, not be forgotten.
“Please make time to come to Arianna’s performances, concerts and shows. Siblings are the forgotten mourners and although she is getting back to her ‘new normal’ she still grieves and struggles to sleep through the night. Andrew was her biggest supporter and when others couldn’t make her shows, he would often say it didn’t matter as long our family was there. It is more important to her then you could ever know.”