The sentencing of Thomas Murphy, a Holbrook man found guilty of driving drunk and crashing into a group of Boy Scouts hiking in Manorville in 2018 — killing a 12-year-old — was abruptly postponed Wednesday due to allegations of jury misconduct. Here is Newsday's Cecilia Dowd with the details. Credit: Newsday / Cecilia Dowd; Howard Schnapp; File footage

The sentencing of a Holbrook man found guilty of driving drunk and crashing into a group of Boy Scouts hiking in Manorville in 2018 — killing a 12-year-old — was abruptly postponed Wednesday amid allegations of jury misconduct and potential new evidence.

The stunning turn of events occurred as Steven Politi, attorney for Thomas Murphy, 60, said four jurors — two deliberating and two alternates — alleged in sworn statements that they discussed the case among themselves before deliberations had begun.

Murphy was found guilty in December of nine charges for his role in the Sept. 30, 2018, crash on David Terry Road that killed Andrew McMorris, a seventh-grader from Wading River.

"Four jurors signed statements that indicated, not only that they discussed the case, but they never told the court about it," Politi said in State Supreme Court in Central Islip. "The allegations, if true, are serious and would affect my client’s right to a fair trial." 

Andrew's parents, Alisa and John McMorris, called Politi's maneuver a "cruel" delay tactic that will prevent them from moving on from the tragedy.

"This is completely outrageous and to put a victim's family through this is unconscionable," Alisa McMorris said as she was surrounded by supporters dressed in red and wearing masks reading “Justice for Andrew.”

Addressing Murphy, she said, "Take your sentence. Give some honor back to your family, and let Andrew rest in peace."

Andrew McMorris was killed in September 2018.

Andrew McMorris was killed in September 2018. Credit: McMorris family

State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho said Politi filed motions asking the court to set aside the verdict on two grounds: alleged juror misconduct and newly discovered evidence. Camacho agreed to delay sentencing and hold a hearing on the allegations Sept. 16-18.

The new evidence, Politi said, comes from two motorists who witnessed the crash and say the Scouts were walking in the roadway before the crash. Prosecutors contend the Scouts were walking safely on the shoulder of the road before the crash.

The alleged misconduct includes claims that jurors had conversations about the case before deliberation; that they read newspaper stories about the trial and overheard private family conversations on their way into the building each morning.

But Camacho said one juror wrote to him in January to say members of the panel had not improperly discussed the case nor had they been "improperly influenced" during the trial. The letter came after Politi wrote to each of the jurors following the trial. The juror who wrote the letter subsequently spoke with Politi by phone and a private investigator hired by the defense later visited his home.

John and Alisa McMorris, Andrew McMorris' parents, along with their...

John and Alisa McMorris, Andrew McMorris' parents, along with their daughter Arianna, 18, right, leave Suffolk County Court  in Central Islip Wednesday after Thomas Murphy's sentencing was postponed. Credit: James Carbone

The allegations outlined in the motions were held under seal Wednesday and not publicly available because they contain confidential juror information, court officials said.

Politi said he learned of the "egregious" misconduct when his team received a phone call from one of the jurors saying they'd discussed testimony and evidence throughout the trial, despite Camacho's orders not to do so.

"I believe the judge will grant my motion to set aside the verdict and hopefully Tom can get a fair trial," Politi said.

Emotions ran high inside and outside court Wednesday.

One McMorris supporter cursed at Politi after his news conference.

Thomas Murphy arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in...

Thomas Murphy arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead in November. Credit: James Carbone

As Politi passed by Alisa McMorris in court, the attorney tossed his water into the air and caught in a sweeping motion that multiple supporters of the family said was disrespectful and insulting.

John McMorris, speaking through tears outside the courthouse, said the family was seeking strength from Andrew "to get us through this hell." But he said justice will prevail.

"It’s been 700 days since Andrew passed and we still can’t get justice," he said, weeping. "This is cruel and unusual and despicable what they are doing to us."

Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini said his office consented to the September hearing to protect the jury's verdict on appeal. Prosecutors are seeking the maximum penalty of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

"l am entirely confident that justice will prevail in this case," Sini said, adding Politi is using the jury misconduct tactic to delay Murphy's prison sentence.

Prosecutors argued during the trial that Murphy spent hours before the crash drinking vodka at the Swan Lake Golf Club in Manorville with three friends before getting behind the wheel of his white Mercedes SUV. Roughly a mile from the golf course, Murphy veered to the right, crossed a white fog line and crashed into the Scouts, who were on a 20-mile hike.

The crash injured three other Scouts from Troop 161: Thomas Lane and his older brother Dennis Lane, both of Shoreham, and Kaden Lynch of Calverton.

Murphy refused to take a Breathalyzer test at the crash scene and prosecutors obtained a warrant from a judge to draw his blood four hours after the crash. The blood test showed Murphy had a 0.13 blood alcohol level — over the legal limit of 0.08%.

Last year's six-week trial was marked by emotional testimony, the constant courtroom presence of the grieving boy's family and friends, and allegations from Politi that his client had been victimized by corrupt or incompetent county officials, from police and prosecutors to members of the toxicology lab, who rushed to judgment against his client to fit a predetermined narrative.

The jury convicted Murphy of two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide; second-degree manslaughter; second-degree assault; two counts of second-degree vehicular assault; two counts of third-degree assault, and reckless driving. His sentencing has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Attorney Chris McGrath, who is representing the McMorris family in a civil case, said the delays must finally end.

“This is justice delayed," he said. "It has to stop and hopefully in a few weeks it will stop."

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