Archive for Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Prosecutors show jury video of interrogation

Video considered crucial for prosecution; defense says it shows willingness to help

February 23, 2005

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He told detectives he was the original Boy Scout, a rule follower and a "wonderful person."

At other times during his interrogation, professor Thomas E. Murray doubled over and grabbed his stomach. Alone in the room momentarily, he sighed out loud and asked himself how he would break the news to his 4-year-old daughter.

"How am I going to tell Ciara?" Murray said. "Mommy died. Mommy went to heaven."

Jurors on Tuesday began viewing what's been described as the key piece of evidence in prosecutors' first-degree murder case against the Kansas State University English professor. During the more than nine-hour interview taped at the Riley County Police Department in Manhattan, Murray gave his alibi, tried to explain the nicks and bruises on his hands, and told detectives he knew he was a likely suspect.

"If I were you, I'd be looking at me," Murray said on the tape. "I think you should."

Jurors observe

The video had been shown previously at Murray's preliminary hearing in December, but Tuesday was the first time it has been aired before the jurors.

As the DVD played, jurors leafed through transcripts of the video and occasionally made notes to themselves.

Murray, wearing a jacket and tie in the courtroom, sat silently within arm's length of some of the jurors. In the video, filmed late on the night of Nov. 14, 2003, he wore sweatpants and a pink sweatshirt, and his hair was closely cropped.

Two television monitors show images from the Douglas County
courtroom where Thomas E. Murray is on trial for the first-degree
murder of his ex-wife, Carmin D. Ross. The monitor on the left
shows Murray's reaction Tuesday to video footage of his
interrogation by detectives, which is shown in the monitor on the
right.

Two television monitors show images from the Douglas County courtroom where Thomas E. Murray is on trial for the first-degree murder of his ex-wife, Carmin D. Ross. The monitor on the left shows Murray's reaction Tuesday to video footage of his interrogation by detectives, which is shown in the monitor on the right.

In the about three-hour portion of the video shown Tuesday, detectives began by asking Murray about himself, his daughter, and his divorce from victim Carmin D. Ross in summer 2003. He told them that even though Ross had met another man and moved out of his home, the couple never had violent disagreements.

'Kind of curious'

At one point, Det. Doug Woods asked Murray, "Do you have any questions for me?" Murray said he didn't understand exactly why he was being questioned. He said that when he was notified of Ross' death hours earlier he assumed it was in a traffic accident but -- given the line of questioning -- he realized that's probably not how Ross died.

Murray said he was "kind of curious" about her manner of death but told Woods, "You'll tell me that when you're ready, I guess."

Prosecutors said that during the interrogation, Murray never directly asked how Ross died. Defense attorneys said Murray did ask but was "stonewalled."





Murray said in the video that on the morning of Nov. 13, 2003 -- the time in which prosecutors believe he drove to Lawrence and beat and stabbed Ross -- he dropped his daughter off at a family friend's house between 8:45 a.m. and 9 a.m., went to his office on campus, then went home and graded papers in his kitchen.

The family friend, Angela Hayes, testified previously that Murray dropped off his daughter about 8:20 a.m. that day, which was unusually early. Also, later in the video, Murray changed his story and told detectives he drove to Paxico to go antique shopping.

For nearly two hours during the interrogation, Murray gestured only with his left hand and kept his right hand tucked between his legs. Eventually, when asked if he had any injuries, he showed detectives there were nicks and bruises on his right hand.

He told them the injuries came from playing "Octopus" with his daughter, cutting a pineapple and cleaning gutters.

"Who among us hasn't had something show up on their hand? A nick or a cut or something?" defense attorney Bob Eye said last week during opening statements.

Murray told detectives that even though he was right-handed, he gestured with his left hand in part because he liked to practice using both.

Crucial evidence

In his opening statement, defense attorney Eye called the video "the centerpiece of the state's case." Prosecutor Angela Wilson told jurors that Murray's own words would help convict him.

The defense, however, argued that the tape showed Murray's willingness to cooperate with detectives. Eye pointed out to jurors last week that, at the end of the interview, detectives didn't arrest Murray.

"He does not make incriminating statements," Eye said. "He attempts to fill in the gaps.... If they thought they had a murderer in their midst, they're not going to allow him to go home to Ciara. That's what they did. They had to."

The showing of the video is expected to resume this morning. The video was delayed for several hours Tuesday morning as attorneys deleted portions because of a newly issued Kansas Supreme Court ruling that says jurors can't watch videotaped evidence of police calling a defendant a liar -- something that happened several times in the unedited Murray video.

On Friday the Supreme Court ordered a new trial for a Topeka rape defendant after finding that a judge shouldn't have allowed jurors to hear a portion of a video in which police accused the man of lying.

Under criminal law, witnesses are prohibited from giving opinions about other witnesses' credibility. Only jurors should evaluate who is telling the truth, courts have ruled.

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