The Last of the Great Old-School New York Trial Lawyers
An attorney who isn’t afraid to hurl a punch still wanders the courthouses of the city’s outer boroughs, racking up big wins for bad clients.”>
Last month he delivered a not guilty verdict for a client who had signed a confession to firing a. 9mm bullet into his girlfriends head.
Before that, it was a client arrested with a handgun hidden in a secret compartment of his car.
Most criminal lawyers work out plea deals on occurrences like this. But many of the clients who pay top dollar to Stephen G. Murphy, Esq ., who at 72 has become a Queens Boulevard legend, intend to face a jury of their peers and the chance of a maximum sentence.
After racking up a 60 -0 conviction record with one hung jury as a Queens prosecutor starting in 1970, he hung a defense shingle in 1972, constructing a stellar reputation for winning acquittals for bank robbers, mobsters, white-collar crooks, jammed-up policemen, drug dealers, smugglers, and killers.
Murphy boasts a 46 -2 homicide trial record and, he notes, one of the convicted guys signed a confession and left DNA at the assassination scene.
With New Yorks historically low murder rate today, juicy assassination occurrences are harder to come by. Most slayings are committed by people who utilize Legal Aid lawyers, Murphy tells. There have always been about 10 big slayings a year committed by people who can afford an expensive lawyer to go to trial.
Murphy, a liberal Democrat and practising Catholic, attends mass every Sunday andafter decades roaming the barrooms of Queens Boulevard and Manhattans night spots like Elaines and P.J. Clarkes, these days limits himself to a glass of wine with a victory dinner.
I first fulfilled Murphy covering the racially-fueled Howard Beach murder trial in 1987, when five white teens were charged with chasing several blacks down Cross Bay Boulevard with bats, calling them niggers. One black guy named Michael Griffith, 23, wound up killed by a speeding vehicle as he fled from the white mob onto the Belt Parkway.
The ugly incident and celebrated trial galvanized the city and the nation.
I encompassed that case for New York Newsday, in what seemed like an orderly by-the-book prosecution by special prosecutor Joe Hynes until Murphy stood from the defense table, a compact 5-foot-7 red-haired Irish welterweight packed into a sharp Armani suit who stalked across the courtroom well and began to screaming at the top of his lungs inches from the prosecution witness, Timothy Grimes. Arms flailing, thumb pointing, face as red as a stop sign, Murphy degraded the character and veracity of Grimes with such ferocity that the witness stormed off the stand. Murphy stood his ground, feet planted, fists balled, warning, I hope you brought the knife you stabbed your girlfriend with because youre gonna need it with me.
The press and spectators sat spellbound. Judge Tomas Demakos hammered his gavel, ordering a recess. Then admonished an unfazed Murphy.
Throughout the trial Murphy delivered a James Cagney-caliber performance. Hynes objected, endlessly. The judge admonished him. The jury loved him. When the jurors returned with their verdicts for the five teens, only Murphys client, Michael Pirone, was acquitted.
Glad its over, Murphy said.
What few people knew was that after the reporters and TV crews vanished, for several years after the trial, Murphy attended an annual memorial mass for Michael Griffith, donating generously to his memorial money, and became friendly with his mother, Jean Griffith Sandiford.
Mr. Murphy did his chore and did it exceptionally well for his client, Griffith Sandiford told me about Murphy. He was personally as disgusted as everyone else about the whole incident.