Rulings on Murphy expected today

February 18, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

For the defense: Two nationally prominent lawyers from out of state, backed by one of Baltimore's more tenacious defense attorneys and a local law professor.

Then there's the defendant in this wife-beating trial, William H. Murphy Jr., taking notes and leaning over a trial table blanketed with legal papers to whisper suggestions to his pricey legal team.

It's a lot of legal firepower for the type of case more often handled on the District Court's domestic violence docket. Today, a judge is expected to rule on key pretrial motions. If the rulings favor the defense, the prosecution's case could be crippled before the trial even starts.

The defense says the case would have been dropped long ago had it not been for the former judge and one-time mayoral candidate's prominence as a lawyer who shows no great reverence for the police. Why prosecute the case, considering Mr. Murphy's wife has invoked her marital privilege to refuse to testify and has asked that the charges be dropped?

The answer, according to prosecutors, some defense lawyers and judges active in domestic violence issues, is that the State's Attorney's Office routinely presses cases in which the victim declines to testify -- if they have other evidence.

Hence the bare-knuckled legal fight that State of Maryland vs. Murphy has become.

"Our forefathers were not timid about their assertions of rights," said defense attorney William B. Moffitt.

Mr. Moffitt, who played a supporting role in his Virginia firm's defense of Lorena Bobbitt, was arguing the ramifications that would come with penalizing Mr. Murphy for ordering police out of his house last July 12.

The defense says police should not be allowed to repeat statements supposedly made by Mr. Murphy and his wife and in-laws because officers violated the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights against illegal searches by not leaving his house when he told them to.

Assisting Mr. Moffitt is Raymond M. Brown, a New Jersey attorney who, like Mr. Moffitt, conducts seminars on defense strategies; M. Cristina Gutierrez, a tenacious Baltimore defense lawyer; and working behind the scenes, Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore law professor who sits on the committees that shape courtroom procedures in Maryland, and John C. Fones, who participated the trial of Melvin L. Jones in the slaying of Sister MaryAnn Glinka,

But this all-out exercise of legal might could end up playing to the state's advantage before a jury.

While errand-runners -- in and out of the courtroom with documents for the defense team, prosecutor Donald Huskey is sitting at a table that holds only his three-ring binder and a small sheaf of papers. The other prosecutor, Roni Young, was out sick Wednesday, and may well stay away from the courtroom when a jury is seated. Prosecutors see a chance to seize the underdog role and gain the jurors' favor.

If the case ever gets to a jury.

Judge Donald J. Gilmore's rulings, if they go the defense way today, could leave the state with little evidence to take to trial.

Mr. Murphy, 50, is charged with battering his 29-year-old wife, Kimberly Murphy, last July in their home in the 1000 block of N. Calvert St. Police said Mrs. Murphy told them, "Billy beat me up," but she now says he did not beat her.

They're also trying to suppress 911 recordings in which Mr. Murphy's brother-in-law, relying on second-hand information, says Mrs. Murphy "has been beat up real bad by her husband."

After the lawyers spent three hours Wednesday arguing points they had raised in more than 80 pages of papers filed the week before, the judge complimented everyone for the hours spent on the case.

Other defense lawyers who wander into the courtroom don't see the case as cause for congratulations. They complain that it's a ++ waste of taxpayer dollars to doggedly pursue this one prosecution, against the alleged victim's wishes.

Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms says his office routinely prosecutes cases in which the victim does not cooperate.

Patricia Toth, director of the National Center for the Prosecution of Child Abuse, which also examines domestic violence issues, said, "You really do have an ethical obligation to protect people. It is not at all unusual for a victimized person to ask for the case to be dropped and for that not to be the best thing to do."

Charles R. Weiner, chief of public defenders at the Wabash Avenue District Court, said Baltimore prosecutors more often than not go forward in a case without the victim's cooperation -- so long as they have other evidence. He added: "The bottom line is it ain't just Billy. I've seen them do it before."

Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman and Mary Ellen T. Rinehardt, two Baltimore judges active in domestic violence issues, agreed that prosecutors pursue cases in which the wife invokes marital privilege.

In the Murphy case, Mrs. Murphy invoked the privilege on Jan. 27.

Wednesday morning, she watched the pretrial hearing from the spectators section. At lunchtime, she left the courtroom arm-in-arm with her husband.

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