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Long IslandCrime

Trial of man charged in Boy Scout's death to start Tuesday

Thomas Murphy leaves a courtroom at Suffolk County

Thomas Murphy leaves a courtroom at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Oct. 10. Credit: James Carbone

Opening arguments in the trial of the Holbrook man charged with driving drunk and killing a 12-year-old Boy Scout and injuring others are scheduled to start Tuesday after a Suffolk County jury was seated on Friday.

Thomas Murphy, 60, has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment charging him with aggravated vehicular homicide, assault and driving while intoxicated in connection with the Sept. 30, 2018, Manorville crash that killed Andrew McMorris of Wading River. 

A jury of seven men and five women, along with another six alternate jurors, was selected from a pool of hundreds of prospective jurors over the course of the last four weeks. The jurors were quizzed during the selection process by the judge, the prosecution and defense in a Riverhead courtroom on a number of issues, including any pretrial publicity they may have seen, whether they could be fair and impartial and how they would react to hearing testimony about the death of a child. Many prospective jurors were dismissed from serving after admitting they had formed strong opinions in the case based on what they read or viewed in the media.

"We have selected a very fair jury and I expect that they're going to do exactly what they promised," said lead defense attorney Steven Politi, who is trying the case with co-counsel Caroline Mayrhofer. Politi declined to say Friday whether his client will testify. 

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment following the conclusion of jury selection Friday. Prosecutors Brendan Ahern, chief of the vehicular crimes bureau, along with colleagues Jacob DeLauter and Raymond Varuolo, are trying the case. 

The trial could last anywhere from three to five weeks and will feature "heartbreaking" testimony, acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho, who is presiding over the case, told prospective jurors during the selection process. 

Ahern has indicated he plans to call dozens of potential witnesses that would offer emotionally charged accounts of the accident and aftermath, including the young Scouts injured the day McMorris was killed, as well as McMorris’ father. The prosecution is also expected to call responding officers, including one who testified at a pretrial hearing that Murphy was visibly intoxicated in the moments after the crash. 

Prosecutors have alleged Murphy had been drinking vodka while playing golf with friends and declined a ride before climbing into his 2016 Mercedes-Benz. A mile and a half from the clubhouse, prosecutors said, Murphy drove off David Terry Road and plowed into the group of Scouts from Troop 161. He refused a breathalyzer test at the scene, prosecutors said, and when his blood was drawn hours later after a warrant was obtained, it registered 0.13 blood alcohol content. Forensic toxicologists estimate it was 0.19% at the time of the crash — more than double the legal standard of 0.08%.

Politi, in prior court statements, has indicated his defense would include allegations that the Scouts were walking in the roadway and therefore his client was not at fault. The prosecution, which contends the Scouts were walking on the side of the road, has called Politi's allegation "false information." Politi contends Murphy passed a field sobriety test, which prosecutors deny. Politi has also raised questions about why no video footage exists of his client being processed at the police precinct after his arrest. 

Supporters on both sides are expected to pack the Riverhead courtroom for the trial, including the mother and relatives of Andrew McMorris and members of the Boy Scouts.

And Murphy’s wife, Jackie Murphy, who has attended prior court appearances and weeks of jury selection, is also expected to attend the trial with other family members.

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