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Juror falls ill in Murphy trial

| Monday, May 6, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Defense attorneys lost a bid Monday to save Kevin Murphy from a possible death penalty, arguing he was convicted of a triple homicide last week on circumstantial evidence.

The penalty phase trial for Murphy, 52, of Conemaugh Township, Indiana County, was delayed in Westmoreland County Court Monday when a juror fell ill with the flu. The case will resume on Tuesday. The jury convicted Murphy on Friday on three counts of first-degree murder for the April 23, 2009, shootings of his mother, 69-year-old Doris Murphy; his sister, 43-year-old Kris Murphy; and his aunt, 81-year-old Edith Tietge.

Their bodies were discovered in the shop area of Ferguson Glass, Murphy's business in Loyalhanna Township.

Defense attorneys Bob Bell and Mark Bolkovac said there is insufficient evidence against Murphy. They claim an unknown shooter executed the victims, firing bullets into the back of their heads.

“There is exceptionally little physical evidence in this case,” the defense lawyers wrote in an appeal filed Monday. “Cases made up of completely circumstantial evidence are particularly susceptible to inaccurate verdicts.”

During a 10-day trial, the prosecution contended Murphy killed the victims because he wanted to get his mother and sister out of his home near Saltsburg, Indiana County, to share it with a girlfriend, who had just been served divorce papers, according to trial testimony.

His aunt entered the shop of Ferguson Glass, where they all worked, after Murphy killed the other two women, according to District Attorney John Peck.

Jurors heard evidence that Murphy's DNA was on the murder weapon, a .22-caliber revolver, and gunshot residue was found on Murphy's hands.

A former inmate, who testified he spoke to Murphy in the county jail, said Murphy claimed his girlfriend put him up to the murders and instructed him on how to cover them up by shooting at a bird with the revolver just hours before the victims were shot.

Jurors deliberated for less than four hours before returning the guilty verdicts.

Judge Al Bell said he dismissed the defense request to bar the death penalty during a closed-door hearing with lawyers on Monday.

A similar motion previously had been ruled upon in Murphy's case by Judge John Blahovec, Bell said.

Jurors will next hear evidence as to whether Murphy should be sentenced to death by lethal injection or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

All three alternate jurors were dismissed last week as deliberations began in the guilt phase of the trial.

Bell postponed the penalty phase until the sick juror recuperates and indicated late Monday that the trial will resume Tuesday.

Duquesne University School of Law professor Wes Oliver said it is unlikely the juror's illness will derail the trial.

“This is not something that can't be solved. One way is to wait like the judge is doing. The judge can also proceed with 11 jurors,” Oliver said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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