The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

April 22, 2013

Triple-murder trial opening with jury trip

GREENSBURG — A western Pennsylvania jury on Monday was bused to an automotive glass shop where the owner is charged with fatally shooting his mother, sister and elderly aunt, allegedly because the women disapproved of his affair with a married woman.

But before the Westmoreland County jury made the 13-mile trip to Ferguson Glass in Loyalhanna Township, the attorneys in the case each spelled out what they believe happened there one day short of four years ago.

Westmoreland County District Attorney John Peck told the jury that Kevin Murphy, 52, shot his mother, 69-year-old Doris Murphy; his 43-year-old sister, Kris Murphy; and his aunt, 81-year-old Edith Tietge, on April 23, 2009, because they didn't approve of his romance with a married woman.

"She basically gave him an ultimatum which the defendant carried out," Peck said, referring to Murphy's then-girlfriend, a married mother of three.

But defense attorney Robert Bell told the jury that Murphy was close to the victims and essentially had become the man in the family when his father died in 1985. Murphy, Bell said, was so distraught that he could barely speak and was shaking uncontrollably, unable to dial 911 after his uncle found the bodies and summoned Murphy to the shop.

"Kevin could not make up the kind of shaking he was doing," Bell told the jury, noting that ambulance crews will be called to testify about Murphy's reactions at the scene.

Peck is seeking three first-degree murder convictions and will ask for the death penalty if Murphy is convicted. The jury would then have to decide whether Murphy deserves to die for his crimes or serve life in prison without parole.

But before any of that happens, Peck must convince the jury that Murphy killed the women in a crime nobody witnessed, in the close-knit semi-rural community where he grew up with the women.

Peck contends that happened because Murphy had begun a relationship with a married woman about 18 months earlier. Murphy would meet the woman before dawn, in a supermarket parking lot miles away, before she drove to work each morning in Pittsburgh. Apparently tired of sneaking around, the woman allegedly told Murphy how he could kill the women — and even establish an alibi by ensuring he was seen doing chores on his uncle's farm across the road from the glass shop — in the days before the shootings.

Murphy wasn't arrested until a year after the shootings, however, because investigators learned of those alleged conversations only after another inmate told them Murphy had spoken of the crime and his girlfriend's comments while he and Murphy walked together around the jail's exercise yard. A state police affidavit said Murphy's girlfriend hadn't met his family, but Peck said she moved in with Murphy a day or so after the killings.

Murphy's attorneys contend he was doing chores at his uncle's farm, some 300 yards from the auto glass shop, at the time when the women must have been shot — and before the women were found by Murphy's uncle after he returned from a daylong trip to auction off a cow.

During Monday's visit, a state police investigator pointed out 15 key locations at the glass shop — including spots where Murphy allegedly hid the gun before and after the shootings — and the uncle's farm to give the jury a firsthand menu of physical reference points they'll hear about at the trial. Among other things, the visit was meant to help the jury understand how long it would have taken Murphy — or anyone else — to move between the two properties.

Bell told the jury that, "Kevin Murphy's defense is simply that it wasn't him that did it."

Still, police have linked Murphy's DNA to a .22-caliber gun that was, in turn, linked to slugs taken from his sister's and aunt's bodies.

Murphy's attorneys acknowledge he brought the gun to the shop but said he did so to scare away birds. Murphy was "deathly afraid" of birds since one swooped down on him and got caught in his hair when he was a child, Bell told the jury.

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