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Witness: Blood of man charged in Boy Scout's death tested over the legal limit

Thomas Murphy arrives at Suffolk County Court in

Thomas Murphy arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Nov. 26. Credit: James Carbone

A Suffolk County forensic scientist testified Monday that the blood of a Holbrook man, charged with driving drunk into a group of Boy Scouts in Manorville — killing a 12-year-old — tested well over the legal limit for alcohol when it was drawn nearly four hours after the crash.

Jennifer Walsh, who works in the Toxicology Department of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner's Office, said the blood of Thomas Murphy, 60, registered as 0.13% blood alcohol content on two consecutive tests. The results, she said, were verified by a supervisor.

Forensic toxicologists estimate that Murphy's BAC was 0.19% at the time of the crash on Sept. 30, 2018 around 1:50 p.m — more than double the legal standard of 0.08%.

Walsh and David Reed, a physician assistant in the medical examiner's office who drew the defendant's blood, testified Monday at Murphy's trial in Riverhead. The veteran county employees described the court-ordered test of Murphy's blood as routine, with each noting that they followed the office's standard procedures.

For example, Walsh agreed with prosecutors that the methods used to analyze Murphy's blood were the "gold standard of testing" in the industry.

Monday's testimony often resembled an advanced high school chemistry class, with detailed explanations about chemical compounds, dilution methods and elements of the periodic table.

Reed said the blood kit was sealed at the time of its use and that he properly mixed Murphy's blood with a preservative and anticoagulant, inverting the mixture eight times so that it would not clot. Reed said he collected two vials of blood — one filled up just above 10 milliliters and another just above 9 milliliters. 

Walsh said that on Oct. 1, 2018, she extracted a sample of blood from one of the vials that was used to determine Murphy's blood alcohol content. Those samples tested, she said, were later discarded.

Steve Politi, Murphy's defense attorney, questioned the witness about whether the sample had been contaminated, improperly stored or if the materials used by the medical examiner's office had expired. He also questioned the kit's chain of custody, the age and maintenance of the device used to perform the blood testing, and whether a more precise test could have been performed.

Politi said the test results are based on the "assumption" that the sample was collected and stored correctly.

"And you don't know anything about how the blood was collected," he told Walsh.

Walsh responded that there were no irregularities in the testing.

"The instrument was working; the extraction was working and each individual sample was working," she said.

Prosecutors contend that Murphy crashed his white Mercedes SUV into a group of Scouts from Troop 161 hiking along David Terry Road after spending the morning drinking vodka on a golf course with three friends. The crash killed Andrew McMorris of Wading River and injured three other Scouts.

Murphy refused repeated requests by a Suffolk police officer to take a Breathalyzer test at the crash scene to determine his blood-alcohol level. Police officials eventually obtained a warrant from a judge to collect Murphy's blood.

Murphy has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment charging him with aggravated vehicular homicide, assault and driving while intoxicated. If convicted, he faces 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

Suffolk Police Det. Adam Friedlander, a member of the county's Major Case Squad, testified Wednesday that he witnessed Reed take Murphy's blood around 5:40 p.m. 

Det. William Sheridan, also of the Major Case Squad, said he brought the sealed blood kit to a refrigerator at the medical examiner's office in Hauppauge shortly before 11 p.m. on the day of the crash, more than five hours after the blood was drawn.

Reed testified that there was no danger of the blood becoming contaminated because it was not immediately refrigerated.

Friedlander said that upon first meeting Murphy, he observed that his eyes were "bloodshot," his breath smelled of alcohol and that he was "unsteady on his feet" and in danger of falling.

"He was intoxicated by alcohol," Friedlander said of Murphy.

Politi suggested that Friedlander had a conflict of interest.

The defense attorney argued in his questioning Wednesday that Susan Friedlander, the detective's wife, had contributed money to Mothers Against Drunk Driving in McMorris' memory. Friedlander's son went to school with Andrew McMorris and Susan Friedlander wrote a letter to the court noting that the two boys were friends. 

Adam Friedlander also appeared to make a mistake in his testimony Wednesday, when he noted that Reed drew only one vial of Murphy's blood. Reed testified Monday that two vials of blood were drawn.

The trial resumes Tuesday with the prosecution expected to rest its case before week's end.

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