A Harford County man who is accused of firing hundreds of rounds at Harford County sheriff’s deputies, along with shooting his neighbor and killing a dog, was deemed competent to stand trial, according to online court records.
Benjamin Thomas Murdy, 45, of Street, is charged with five counts each of attempted first- and attempted second-degree murder, along with scores of other charges, ranging from assault and reckless endangerment to aggravated animal cruelty. After an evaluation, the Maryland Department of Health found Murdy was competent to stand trial on March 17, according to court records.
Legal competency is the measure of a defendant’s ability to understand the charges against them and assist in their own defense.
Murdy also elected to waive his right to a jury trial, meaning he would be tried by a judge. A trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 10, according to electronic court records.
Stephen Tully, who is representing Murdy in the case, said the defense would not fight that the assessment of Murdy’s competence, but the level of his criminal responsibility is still at issue.
”Whether or not he was not sane at the time of the commission is still in play,” Tully said.
Murdy has pleaded not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of the insanity defense — to the charges he is facing. While sometimes conflated, legal competency differs from criminal responsibility, which determines if a defendant was unable to appreciate the criminality of their actions or comport their behavior to the requirements of the law at the time of the alleged offense.
Generally, NCR trials in Maryland are divided into two phases: the first to determine guilt, and if found guilty, the next to determine criminal responsibility. In in seeking a trial by judge, Tully said the two phases of the proceedings in Murdy’s case can be heard at the same time.
Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey R. Gahler said in the aftermath of the incident that Murdy allegedly fired nearly 200 rounds from a rifle and a pistol at deputies.
Robert Schell, who lived across the street from Murdy, was taking out the trash when he felt the bullets hit him, he told The Aegis after the incident. Schell said he had never had any disagreements with Murdy and the two barely knew each other. Other neighbors also said they saw no signs of trouble prior to the incident.Schell hid behind his truck until sheriff’s deputies rescued him.
Crisis negotiators responded to the scene and a member of Murdy’s family called the sheriff’s office with the message that he wanted to surrender. Murdy exited the house and was arrested without police returning fire for the duration of the 90-minute standoff, according to Gahler. According to charging documents, Murdy admitted in an interview with police that he killed the dog and shot at law enforcement.
Documents filed in Harford County courts years before the alleged shooting state that Murdy had talked about shooting police if they were called to his address. His wife was granted a protection order in October 2018, citing one instance where Murdy said he would shoot police if they were called to his home.