Murphy assault trial: lawyer as defendant


Hand-in-hand, Mr. and Mrs. Billy Murphy walked down the marble corridor toward the courtroom. They were on their way to Mr. Murphy's trial on charges of beating Mrs. Murphy.

She now says he didn't do it.

Finding himself playing the part of the defendant and not the defender, the normally talkative William H. Murphy Jr. was silent. He smiled a thin smile.

In a city where thousands of cases of domestic assault are prosecuted every year, this case is anything but routine. It has a specially assigned judge from Carroll County -- all of Baltimore's Circuit Court judges know Mr. Murphy, himself a former judge and former mayoral candidate, too well. Most of all, the case has spawned a legal battle of wills nearly worthy of a capital murder trial. Kimberly Murphy refuses to testify against her husband, but prosecutors want to prosecute him anyway.

"Lots of state energy," M. Cristina Gutierrez, Mr. Murphy's lawyer and a member of his law firm, said when the day was done. "Your tax dollars and mine."

Yesterday, lawyers from New Jersey and Virginia joined the Murphy defense team and joined in the trademark Murphy defense strategy.

That is, the scheduled starting day of the trial was spent on pretrial motions, most of them raised by the defense, most of them aimed toward showing that police can't be trusted.

In one motion, Mr. Murphy's lawyers demanded the disciplinary file of one officer, saying that a decade ago the officer defended himself against charges of making a false report by saying he lies when under stress. Judge Donald J. Gilmore said the motion, filed yesterday, came in too late, and he denied it.

The defense didn't make out much better in most of its other motions, doing no better than getting the judge to reserve his rulings.

The Murphy camp notes that Mrs. Murphy denies police reports that she said her husband punched her several times in the face last July 12.

In court papers the defense argues that police are out to humiliate Mr. Murphy because of his pursuit of brutality claims against members of the Baltimore force -- Mr. Murphy represented a man who last year won a $1.5 million judgment against an officer who shot him -- and for his frequent success in JTC discrediting police testimony in criminal trials.

Prosecutors, Donald Huskey and Roni Young refused to discuss the case in any detail yesterday.

Police were called to the Murphy home in the 1000 block of N. Calvert St. July 12 for a report of an assault. Mr. Murphy's lawyers say one police officer left after being told the situation was in hand, but that another wave of officers followed. Mr. Murphy refused to let these officers into the house. According to court records, he told them: "We don't need your service. We are all right. . . . Get Kim back in here. She isn't talking to the police."

Mrs. Murphy received treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital for an injured nose. The day after the incident, however, she complained that the police report in which she says her husband punched her contained "outright lies."

In a Jan. 5 letter to Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, Mrs. Murphy's lawyer, Phillip G. Dantes, wrote: "It is her statement that Mr. Murphy did not strike her on the occasion which led to charges being brought against him. Her injuries were sustained by other means than his conduct.

"She would tell you that she went along with a false accusation against him because she believed that her husband was having an affair and was angry with him at the time. In addition, by the time the police authorities had gotten so aggressively involved in this situation, she felt out of control and, in a sense, 'cornered' by the process," the letter continues.

"From the standpoint of my client, the best resolution of all of this would be to take the above statement for its truth and dismiss these false charges against Mr. Murphy so that Kim Murphy and her husband can get on with their lives."

In court yesterday afternoon, Mr. Dantes was summoned to the bench, where he apparently invoked his client's privilege under the section of state law that says one spouse can't be forced to testify against the other.

"She's not going to testify for the state against her husband," Mr. Dantes said outside the courtroom.

Mr. Murphy was joined in court by his son, his brother and his sisters.

Also on hand in the morning was Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the 7th District Democrat, who explained his attendance by saying, "Kimberly and Bill are friends of mine."

Throughout the hearing, Mr. Murphy sat at the end of the trial table. He wore a blue suit, his hair gathered in a pony-tail, reading glasses perched near the end of his nose. He took notes and whispered to the out-of-state lawyers.

Mr. Murphy is considered one of Baltimore's most prominent and most aggressive defense lawyers. His clients have included Sandra Craig, a Howard County day care operator whose conviction for child abuse was overturned on appeal, and Washington, D.C., drug kingpin Rayful Edmond III.

His and Ms. Gutierrez's office now represents John Merzbacher, the former Catholic school teacher charged with sexual child abuse, and embattled city Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean.

Mr. Murphy's battery trial is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. today.

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