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Family, friends testify that Harford man accused of shooting at police had mental health issues

Friends, co-workers and family of the man accused of shooting his neighbor and police testified Wednesday that he had a long downward spiral before the events of Jan. 21, 2020.

Benjamin Thomas Murdy, 45 of Street, is charged with five counts each of attempted first- and attempted second-degree murder and over a dozen counts of assault in addition to destruction of property, reckless endangerment, animal cruelty and use of a firearm, according to electronic court records.

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Murdy is charged in connection to an approximately 90-minute standoff with police in January of 2020, where he allegedly shot his neighbor and fired approximately 200 rounds at police, who responded to his house in the 4500 block of Oak Ridge Drive for a report that he had killed his girlfriend’s dog.

He pleaded not criminally responsible — Maryland’s version of the insanity defense — in February of 2020. Because of that, the judge will have to weigh his guilt as well as his criminal responsibility: whether or not he appreciated the criminality of his conduct or could conform his behavior to the law.

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Murdy’s sister, Koren Dumphy, testified Wednesday that things started to unravel for him after Murdy’s fraternal twin brother killed himself in 2018. While the twins had a quarrelsome relationship, she said his death approximately 18 months before the alleged shooting left a mark on Murdy.

Beyond those stressors, Murdy discovered his wife had been cheating on him for over a decade, Dumphy said, and the two of them split. Murdy was also dealing with other family issues, and later began taking Zoloft, an antidepressant, she said.

Dumphy said her brother’s doctor had prescribed him 100 milligrams, but that dose was far too high. She said he was frustrated that the medicine was impeding his otherwise stellar performance at work and that he was having delusions, including conversations with his deceased brother and other dead associates.

“He would think that I was out to get him, that my mother was out to get him,” she said.

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She said Murdy’s speaking was disjointed, and while the delusions were worrisome, she thought he was more of a danger to himself than anybody else.

“We were more concerned that he was going to take his own life,” she said.

Murdy’s father, Ralph Murdy, said the family has a history of mental illness, struggling with depression and suicide. When his son would call him, Ralph Murdy said he could usually calm him down, but the day before the alleged shooting, Benjamin Murdy was inconsolable, he said. The next day, Murdy called his father between six and eight times, similarly agitated.

“I had never talked to a person like that,” Ralph Murdy testified. “I am not qualified to say it, but he was psychotic.”

Murdy told his father that dogs were attacking and that he was having a conversation with his dead brother.

Murdy’s girlfriend Jennifer Gardner testified that she left the house before the shooting, corroborated by video footage of the property. She said Murdy stopped taking his Zoloft days before the incident, and that he was acting abnormal on the night in question.

Gardner said Murdy was rambling about the Delaware lottery and told his ex-wife he could speak to dead people. Gardner said she realized he was acting strange, and left with her two children. She did not take the dog, she explained, because she knew Murdy loved the animal, as all his friends and family testified to.

Before she left, he told her “I hope you enjoy cleaning my brains off the back porch,” she recounted. She was not overly worried, because the two used to joke about dark subjects.

After shooting the animal, Murdy texted Gardner’s sister and said he had killed the dog. She texted him back to ask if he had really done it, and he replied that he had shot “multiple dogs,” Gardner said.

At that point, she called the police and told them Murdy was potentially suicidal.

While he was alone in the house, Murdy called his cousin, Jesse Bender, who testified Wednesday that Murdy was not making sense. Murdy told him he was talking with his brother and Bender’s sister, both of whom are dead, and said he saw blood coming out of the walls, Bender testified.

As the two spoke, Bender said he heard the sounds of a magazine being loaded and heard “several hundred shots.” Bender said he had a bad feeling when he picked up the call, but had never had an experience like that with Murdy.

“It had to just be building over time,” Bender said.

At the first day of trial, assistant states attorney Charles Fitzpatrick played video of the arrest and alleged shooting. Pictures taken at the scene also show empty boxes of ammunition piled below the window he allegedly shot from, as well as the two guns and the dead dog.

All told, police investigators found 192 fired cartridges at the scene, and traced their trajectory back toward Murdy’s house.

Numerous videos of the alleged shooting, its lead-up and its aftermath were played in court Tuesday. In a video of his interview with police, Murdy admitted he had been drinking beer, but did not specify how much. Gardner and Bender both testified Wednesday that he had not seemed drunk.

On cross-examination, Fitzpatrick pointed out that Gardner told Maryland Department of Health investigators that Murdy was a heavy drinker — consuming between 12 and 18 beers a day.

The trial will resume Thursday with expert testimony.

Murdy has opted for a bench trial, rather than trial by jury; Harford County Circuit Court Judge Kevin Mahoney is hearing the case. Trials in which a defendant pleads not criminally responsible, as Murdy has, are often bifurcated into a guilt portion and a criminal responsibility portion, but because Mahoney is hearing the case rather than a jury, the trial will not be split up.

Mahoney said he will deliver his verdict on Murdy’s guilt and criminal responsibility at the same time instead of ruling on each separately. That verdict may come next week, he said.

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