A Harford County man was convicted of five counts of attempted first-degree murder and other charges stemming from a 2020 shooting in which he wounded his neighbor and fired nearly 200 rounds at sheriff’s deputies.
Benjamin Thomas Murdy, 45, of Street, was found guilty of — and criminally responsible for — nearly all the charges he faced, which also included five counts of first-degree assault and one count each of reckless endangerment, use of a firearm and aggravated animal cruelty. Murdy had pleaded not criminally responsible, which is Maryland’s version of an insanity defense.
His sentencing has been scheduled for Dec. 6. The maximum penalty for attempted first-degree murder is life in prison, State’s Attorney for Harford County Albert Peisinger said at a news conference.
In delivering his sentence, Judge Kevin Mahoney said the incident was the result of common problems: mental illness and access to firearms.
“This is yet another tragic example of the collision of two American societal problems,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney said that experts brought by the defense and prosecution were highly credible, and noted that there was a year of Murdy’s text conversations admitted into evidence for him to consider. Murdy’s four-day trial ended last Friday. He had opted for a bench trial, meaning his case was heard by a judge rather than a jury.
On Jan. 21, 2020, deputies responded to the 4500 block of Oak Ridge Drive in Street for an animal cruelty call. After staging down the street and getting into position, shots rang out from Murdy’s house. Across the street, Robert Schell was backing his truck down the driveway to take the trash out when the shooting started. He was hit twice by the bullets.
After the hearing, Schell said the incident was regrettable for everyone. He was glad Murdy was charged, and while it is too soon for him to contemplate forgiveness, he said he could see himself forgiving Murdy in due time.
“I feel really sorry for everyone involved,” he said. “I never thought, taking my trash down, I’d get shot that night.”
Murdy’s sister, Koren Dunphy, said her brother was dramatically changed after his brother’s 2018 death, and she wished everyone had a chance to really know Murdy for his kind, uplifting and generous qualities.
“Everything just went downhill,” she said after Friday’s verdict.
Mahoney said the case was in large part a battle of two highly competent experts on either side of the case, and he found both of their reports on Murdy compelling in their own ways. In his judgment, while both sides agreed that Murdy had a mental illness, he said that the evidence showed he was capable of complex tasks like those involving his job as a plumber.
The judge also noted that no medical documentation reported any signs of bipolar disorder before Murdy got to jail and read a book on it before reporting he suffered from it.
At trial, the prosecution argued that Murdy was ill-tempered, and his erratic behavior was more akin to intoxication than undiagnosed mental illness. The defense argued that due to a combination of untreated bipolar disorder, stressors in his personal life and using the prescription medication Zoloft, which is not meant to treat the disorder, Murdy was not in his right mind at the time of the shooting. His family also had a history of mental illness.
Murdy was not found guilty or criminally responsible for two counts of destruction of property and four counts of second-degree assault on a law enforcement officer. Peisinger said that because no officers were actually injured, the charge was not fully proved.
“I will take this scenario any day of the week over not guilty,” he said.
Peisinger said the case highlights the dangers to law enforcement.
“Harford County is a great county, we love living here, but we do have tragic incidences,” Peisinger said. “This is a kind of reminder that we need to really reflect upon and say thank you to our law enforcement community.”