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Former Met Wally Backman a victim of unstable ex, sloppy cops, defense says

Former New York Mets star Wally Backman, right,

Former New York Mets star Wally Backman, right, arrives at Riverhead Town Justice Court on Wednesday with one of his attorneys, Stephen Civardi. Credit: James Carbone

An attorney for former Mets star Wally Backman portrayed him Wednesday as a victim of sloppy policing and a mentally unstable ex-girlfriend with a long criminal record on day two of his trial in Riverhead on criminal mischief and harassment charges.

Suffolk County prosecutors have said Backman, the Long Island Ducks manager, pushed ex-girlfriend Amanda Byrnes against a wall during an Aug. 30 domestic dispute at her Riverhead home. Backman then injured Byrnes' hand when he prevented her from calling 911 on her cellphone, according to prosecutors. Suffolk police responded to Byrnes’ home that morning after her mother called them to say she had received a text from her daughter seeking help.

In Riverhead Town Justice Court on Wednesday, Backman’s attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge asked Riverhead Town Police Officer Timothy Murphy how Byrnes could have contacted her mother that morning as well as a co-worker and her boss if the former Mets second baseman had prevented her from using her phone.

“Did you ask her what phone she used to contact her mother?” Keahon asked Murphy during the 20-year veteran police officer's second day of testimony. 

“No,” Murphy answered.

Murphy also acknowledged he did not know that Byrnes has used aliases, including “Amanda Burns” and “Amanda Sunshine.” 

Backman, 60, is on trial before Judge Lori Hulse on charges of fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, and second-degree harassment, a violation. Backman waived his right to a jury trial Tuesday.

A Met from 1980 to 1988, Backman was a key contributor to the team’s 1986 World Series championship. He coached in the Mets’ system from 2010 to 2016 and was named the sixth manager in Ducks history in November 2018.

Murphy testified Tuesday that Backman told him his wife had found out about the relationship with Byrnes. Backman told Murphy he tried to break up with Byrnes but she took his keys and phone to prevent him from leaving, the officer testified.

Another Riverhead police officer who responded to Byrnes’ home that morning searched Backman’s bag for the phone and the keys but was unable to find them, Murphy testified Wednesday. Backman did not have them when he was processed at Riverhead police headquarters, the police officer added. 

Murphy also testified Wednesday that he did not know whether Byrnes had provided video from a doorbell security system taken that morning and requested by police, or a recording of Backman apologizing to her. 

“I believe it was not provided,” Murphy said. 

Murphy also admitted under cross-examination by Keahon that he had erred when he wrote in a police report that the incident occurred at 7:42 a.m. that day. 

Murphy testified that 7:42 a.m. was actually when Riverhead police received the call from Byrnes' mother. Byrnes has said in a statement the incident occurred about 24 minutes earlier. 

“Nobody moved to correct the police report?” Keahon asked. Murphy responded that Wednesday was the first time he had been made aware of the discrepancy. 

In 2001, Backman was charged with misdemeanor harassment in an incident involving his wife, Sandi, and her friend, Sherrie Rhoden, in Princeville, Oregon.

Authorities at the time said Backman suffered a broken arm in the domestic scuffle when Rhoden struck him with one of his own used bats from the 1986 World Series. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was sentenced to 12 months probation, ordered to undergo an anger management evaluation and donate $1,000 to the local Boys and Girls Club.

A year earlier, Backman was arrested and later convicted on a DUI charge in Kennewick, Washington.

Backman’s trial resumes Thursday morning in Riverhead. Byrnes’ mother, Valerie Byrnes, is expected to be the first witness called by prosecutor Kyle Grasser.

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