Tulsa Mother Found Innocent Of Infant's Death After 20 Years In Prison
Friday, September 12th 2014, 11:22 AM CDT
Michelle Murphy, who had been in jail or prison for 20 years, had her sentence vacated by DNA evidence earlier this year.
In a Friday hearing to examine the DNA testing and biological evidence, Tulsa County District Judge William C. Kellough exonerated Murphy. Friday also marked the 20th anniversary of her son's death.
One of her attorneys called it "appropriate timing."
“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.
Murphy said she was only expecting an evidentiary hearing and discovery, but the Tulsa County district attorney filed a motion to dismiss.
“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 says.
What happened next was a surprise to Murphy and her team of lawyers.
She said the judge looked at her and said, "You're innocent."
"I could do nothing but cry," Murphy told News On 6. "Every day is a miracle to me. To be able to wake up in a real bed, to be able to go outside when I want to -- I can actually mourn my son now. I can maybe be privileged to know my daughter."
The infant boy's body was found with his throat slit, nearly decapitated and in a pool of blood inside Murphy's apartment in 1995. The young mother was just 17 years old. Her eldest child, a 2-year-old girl, was taken into protective custody when Murphy was arrested for the crime.
Murphy's lawyers claim she was prosecuted because of blood evidence at the scene that was first thought to be hers.
In the 1995 trial, prosecutors argued that certain samples of blood at the crime scene did not belong to the baby. Subsequent DNA testing showed that was incorrect, documents say. It was another of the of the factors moving Harris to dismiss the case against Murphy. He said it could have affected the verdict against her.
"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.
Police have a 1994 taped confession of Murphy saying she leaned over her baby with a knife and accidentally killed him. Her attorney said that was a forced confession, and her original lawyers didn't do their homework.
Murphy's attorney's claimed the baby was killed by 14-year-old neighborhood kid William Lee, who committed suicide after Murphy's preliminary trial. According to court documents, Lee had a history as a juvenile delinquent. Lee is the one who called 911 from a pay phone in the neighborhood the night the baby died. He told dispatchers he was reporting a domestic situation, documents say.
Lee later testified that he couldn't sleep and was walking around outside the apartment complex in the middle of the night when he heard Murphy and the baby's father arguing. He claimed that through the apartment windows, he saw Murphy carry the baby from one room to another, and the next time she appeared, she had blood on her arms and the baby was in the floor in blood.
After his death, investigators took a sample of Lee's tissue in an autopsy to compare to the blood found at the murder scene. Lee had the same AB blood type as the baby. According to court documents, Murphy's genetic profile and Type A blood did not match the blood samples extracted from the crime scene, court documents say.
Harris said he is a "minister of justice," and he felt he couldn't go forward in prosecuting Murphy further because "Father Time has a way of taking away evidence," the witnesses are 20 years older, and the DNA isn't that exact in this case.
"If you can't go forward in the case, you've gotta do the next right thing and move to dismiss," Harris said.
The case against Murphy was dismissed with prejudice, which prevents it from being refiled in the future. Murphy can, however, file a civil tort claim against the government for the handling of the case. The award in Oklahoma is capped at $175,000.
According to Friday's court proceedings, there is one thing that is clear: Murphy now can go on with the life she missed out on for two decades while she was labeled a murderer.
"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's phenomenal. ...It was traumatic. It was very hard; it was a struggle every day. But I survived. I'm a survivor."
Asked if he believes there is still a killer out there on the loose in this case, Harris simply replied, "No."