Westmoreland triple-homicide trial goes to jury Friday

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A jury will begin deliberating today in the capital murder trial of Kevin Murphy, accused of executing his mother, sister and aunt in 2009 so he and his girlfriend could live together without their interference.

Lawyers will make their closing arguments this morning before a Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court jury, which has heard nearly two weeks of testimony.

If Mr. Murphy is found guilty of first-degree murder in any of the killings, he could get the death penalty.

After listening impassively for seven days, Mr. Murphy took the stand Wednesday in his defense and was cross-examined Thursday by District Attorney John Peck.

Mr. Peck contends that Mr. Murphy killed his mother, Doris Murphy, 69; his sister, Kris Murphy, 43; and his aunt, Edith Tietge, 81, because they disapproved of his affair with Susan McGuire, a married woman with three children who was seeking a divorce. All three were found shot to death on April 23, 2009, in the garage of Mr. Murphy's business, Ferguson Glass, in remote Loyalhanna.

Mr. Murphy's lawyers are trying to convince the jury that someone else killed the three women, although they haven't named anyone. Their main goal is to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the jurors about whether Mr. Murphy did it.

To that end, they took the risk of having him testify, an unusual move in a capital trial.

Under questioning by one of his lawyers, Bob Bell, Mr. Murphy testified in a monotone for more than an hour on Wednesday, recounting his family history and details of what he said happened the day of the murders. He said he loved his family and did not kill them.

Grilled by Mr. Peck on Thursday, he also denied that he had concocted a story about shooting at a bird as part of an alibi.

Mr. Peck asked him if it wasn't true that he told a story about shooting at a robin on the day of the killings so he would have an explanation if police were able to find DNA or fingerprints on the murder weapon.

"No, it isn't," he said flatly.

The day before, Mr. Murphy repeated the account he had given to police about using the gun, a .22-caliber, to shoot at the bird.

He said that at about 9 a.m., he retrieved the gun, which was kept in a drawer in the shop, and fired at a robin that was building a nest behind the building. He had told police that he was "deathly" afraid of birds and told the jury the same thing.

"When I was a young kid," he said in explaining his fear, "I was chased by a bird."

He said he later told his co-worker, Don Shondelmyer, that the gun had burned his hand when he fired it.

The bird account was part of an alibi that a jailhouse informant, John Meighan, said Mr. Murphy told him he and Ms. McGuire came up with on the morning of the murders as a cover story.

After shooting at the bird, Mr. Murphy said he put in a full work day and then went to his uncle Roy Martin's farm to feed the cows. He was there working, he said, when his uncle arrived home and went to look for his sister, Edith, and the other women.

Mr. Martin found them dead in the garage and yelled for Mr. Murphy to come.

Mr. Meighan had testified that feeding the cows also was part of the cover story. He said Mr. Murphy told him that his uncle had gone to a cattle auction that day.

When Mr. Martin came back sometime after 4 p.m., Mr. Murphy made sure his uncle saw him feeding the animals on the farm so that when Mr. Martin found the bodies in the glass shop, Mr. Murphy would not be suspected, according to Mr. Meighan's testimony.

After the bodies were discovered, Mr. Murphy said he was too distraught to help his uncle perform CPR or do anything to help.

He was taken to Westmoreland County hospital, where police questioned him at length. State troopers said he was a suspect almost from the beginning.

A key to the case is the testimony by Mr. Meighan, who said Mr. Murphy admitted the killings and the planning of the alibis during conversations the two had at the Westmoreland County Prison after Mr. Murphy had been arrested in 2010.

On the stand, Mr. Murphy said he and Mr. Meighan did talk in jail about their families but denied that he ever said anything about the homicide case.

"That's personal," he said.

But Mr. Peck got him to admit to several lies Thursday. He had initially told troopers that he brought the gun to the glass shop for "protection." Under questioning, he said the weapon was needed to shoot raccoons on his uncle's farm.

Mr. Peck contends he brought the gun to the shop to kill his family.

Mr. Murphy also admitted that he did not initially tell state troopers that he had a girlfriend. An investigator had asked him directly if he had one and he said no.

"Was that a lie?" Mr. Peck asked. "It was, yes," Mr. Murphy replied.

He told Mr. Peck that he was so upset about the murders that he forgot about Ms. McGuire or the fact that he had met with her that morning.

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Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1510. First Published May 2, 2013 11:30 AM


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