Michelle Murphy was convicted in 1995 of the murder of her 3-year-old son, but new evidence and the District Attorney Tim Harris’ admission that he “misspoke” during the closing arguments of the trial led the judge to vacate Murphy’s conviction and life without parole sentence. She was released from prison on May 30th to await her retrial.
“This day has been a long time coming for Michelle,” said Sharisse O’Carroll, who represented Murphy along with her law partner Richard O’Carroll, “Not only did she suffer the tragedy of losing her beloved child but also the injustice of being wrongly incarcerated for 20 years for his murder that she did not commit.”
Murphy was just 17 when she was convicted of first-degree murder in the slashing death of infant son. The baby was found in a pool of blood inside Murphy’s apartment with his throat slashed in 1994. Murphy was forced to give her daughter up for adoption when she was convicted. The Innocence Project eventually took up Murphy’s case believing that it was possible her neighbor and the prosecution’s star witness, William Lee, who died before trial, could have been the real killer.
District Attorney Harris said that blood evidence found at the scene which was initially identified as Murphy’s to jurors didn’t in fact belong to her at all. In a hearing late last week, Judge William Kellough exonerated Murphy on the 20th anniversary of her son’s death.
“I spent 20 years wrongfully in prison for something I didn’t do, and I’ve been fighting all these years to prove that,” Murphy said.
“The law, the facts, the evidence and the witnesses, as they exist at the present time, as well as the passing of 20 years creates a set of circumstances where the State of Oklahoma does not believe that it can meet its burden of proof at a jury trial of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,’” a motion made by Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said.
Harris said that the DNA “isn’t exact” in the case.
Murphy’s defense had gone to the hearing expecting to argue issues of evidence in preparation for her retrial, but instead the prosecution filed a motion to dismiss. A happy surprise for Murphy, but what happened next at the hearing was even better.
The judge turned to Murphy and declared, “You’re innocent,” before dismissing the case.
“I could do nothing but cry,” Murphy said, “Every day is a miracle…To be able to wake up in a real bed…go outside when I want to…mourn my son…maybe…know my daughter.”
“A lawyer has a right to be asked to depend on his expert’s opinion,” Harris said. “But when DNA showed those opinions weren’t correct… when I realized I was making an inaccurate argument to the jury [based on expert opinion], however much that played in their decision-making process, I said, ethically, if that led to her conviction, I need to move to vacate that conviction,” Harris said. Based upon a state expert’s opinion, prosecutors told the jury that some blood at the crime scene did not belong to the baby, but to Michelle Murphy. DNA testing showed that was incorrect.
Police obtained a taped confession from Murphy who said she leaned over her son with a knife and accidentally killed him. Murphy and her attorneys maintain it was a false confession. In addition, her new attorneys believe her original attorneys didn’t do much to help Murphy.
Her defense attorneys say they believe William Lee, who died after Murphy’s preliminary hearings (either by suicide or accidental asphyxiation, reports differ) had a history of juvenile delinquency and did not get along with Murphy, a single mother of two.
Lee is the one who called 911 from a pay phone in the neighborhood the night the baby died and told dispatchers there was a domestic situation. Lee testified in hearings that he couldn’t sleep and decided to walk around the apartment complex when he heard Murphy and the baby’s father arguing. He said he looked through broken blinds and saw Murphy carrying the boy throughout the house. Then he saw her reemerged with blood on her arms and the baby lying on the floor. After his death, investigators did blood typing on Lee and compared it to the blood at the scene. They found that Lee and the baby shared the same AB blood type, but they also discovered that Murphy had a different blood type and didn’t match the blood samples. Still, despite the assertion at trial that her blood was present at the scene and the knowledge that it wasn’t, it took almost 20 years for the information to surface in court.
The case was dismissed with prejudice meaning that Murphy cannot be retried in the future.
“I can learn how to live life free without all this hanging over me,” Murphy told News On 6. “Learn how to drive. Learn how to be independent…It was traumatic. It was very hard; it was a struggle every day. But I survived…”
When asked if he believed there was a killer out there on the loose, Harris replied, “No.”